Tags: tesla | driverless | car | auto

Tesla Slams the Brake on Its Driverless Car Technology: Bloomberg Gadfly

Image: Tesla Slams the Brake on Its Driverless Car Technology: Bloomberg Gadfly

By    |   Sunday, 23 Oct 2016 12:06 PM

You might have missed it from the way Tesla Motors just announced that all its new cars will have self-driving hardware, but the company Thursday put a brake on its autonomous-vehicle technology.

Naturally, it's installing sensing technology in all its vehicles now, because that's what the entire automotive industry is doing. Look at sales of Mobileye's EyeQ chip, the visual-recognition hardware that powered Tesla's autonomous systems before a falling-out between the companies this year. The number of cars being produced with this technology by other car manufacturers vastly outstrips Tesla's own volumes:

The crucial bit of the announcement is buried in the last paragraph:

"Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control."

In other words, the new cars will probably be able to operate in some sort of self-driving mode at an unspecified future date, but won't be doing it at once -- unlike the vehicles that  have been involved in crashes in locations including Florida, California, Beijing, Germany and the Netherlands  in recent months.

Approximate number of cars with Mobileye EyeQ chips: 12.3 million

That's a welcome retreat. As Gadfly has argued before, driverless cars are going to end up killing a lot more people before they start getting safer, and Tesla needs to recognize that for both its own sake, and that of the broader industry.

Minimizing that risk is going to involve collecting petabyte after petabyte of data about how driverless cars perform on the road.

Google, whose driverless-car development has fallen behind rivals, provides a good analogy. By taking out about three-quarters of the market for online search and almost 90 percent of the share in mobile operating systems, it has built up a database of the world's online behavior that no other competitor can match.

The numerous automakers competing to get self-driving cars on the road want to achieve the same thing: Acquire the best possible database of autonomous behavior to ensure their cars are safer than the competition's. That's one reason why the industry is wary of a push by U.S. regulators to get them to share more data: The proposal essentially asks them to surrender their competitive advantage.

By encouraging drivers to give up more control to their vehicle, Tesla's Autopilot mode may have given it an edge in data-collection over the more passive lane-assist and sensing systems employed by the likes of Volvo, BMW, GM and Toyota. But the costs of that high-stakes strategy have been outweighing the benefits: Aside from the rising toll of accidents, Mobileye blamed Musk's over-enthusiasm about the technology for ending their relationship, and Germany last week asked Tesla to drop the term Autopilot in case it was leading drivers to reduce their attention.

Giving up on autonomous mode in new cars will reduce Tesla's ability to overcome its numerical disadvantage in data collection against the major volume automakers. But it will ensure the entire industry is able to develop more prudently, and give regulators faith that engineers aren't putting inter-company competition ahead of road safety. That can only be a good thing.

 David Fickling is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering commodities, as well as industrial and consumer companies. He has been a reporter for Bloomberg News, Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and the Guardian.

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.

   
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You might have missed it from the way Tesla Motors just announced that all its new cars will have self-driving hardware, but the company Thursday put a brake on its autonomous-vehicle technology.Naturally, it's installing sensing technology in all its vehicles now, because...
tesla, driverless, car, auto
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2016-06-23
Sunday, 23 Oct 2016 12:06 PM
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