Tesla and the self driving conundrum
Last week, the remarkable news story broke that the self driving Tesla Model X was being credited with helping to save a mans life.
Missouri lawyer Joshua Neally suffered a pulmonary embolism behind the wheel of his car, reluctant to call an ambulance Neally put his trust in the car’s autopilot system, which miraculously drove itself 20 miles to the nearest hospital, saving his life.
The news will come as a pleasant surprise to Tesla, who only last month faced much criticism after a man had been involved in a fatal accident following a collision with a lorry. The crash raised several questions over the safety of Tesla’s autopilot function and even led to a federal investigation, and yet in this case the same feature appears to have saved a driver’s life.
The Tesla autopilot function has been specifically engineered to guide cars to stop on the side of the road if a driver becomes unresponsive, with special inbuilt technology which requires the driver to touch the wheel every couple of minutes. Furthermore, the car is able to track other vehicles on the road, change lines, and manage speed. The technology also features digital control of brakes and steering, and is even able to scan for a parking space and parallel park on command. Tesla has also just introduced a new summon feature which allows drivers to ‘call’ the car from your phone, allowing it to come to you.
Such autopilot features are progressively enabled over time with software updates, and Tesla has been quick to reaffirm that the technology should be used with drivers still keeping their hands on the wheel, so if needs be they can take control at any time.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk only last month insisted that the self-drive feature was statistically safer than a real person driving, and the car maker has no plans to disable its autopilot feature. With the car industry believing that in time driverless technology will lead to falling road deaths, as more than 90% of car related accidents are as a result of human error.
Currently, Tesla cars are clocking up more than 3 million miles a day on autopilot, with Musk expecting global regulatory approval once this reaches 6 billion miles. And within days of the announcement of the Model 3, Tesla had already received more than 325,000 reservations, translating to around $14 billion implied future sales, the single biggest one week launch of any product ever. So while recent collisions may have caused an ever so slight falter, the latest news about the success of the autopilot function and recent sales figures, it would seem that Tesla shows no sign of slowing down.