You have a technology that helps drivers not to accidentally leave their lane, not to drive into cars in front of them, not to drive through red lights, not to fall asleep driving and to change lanes carefully (with 10 eyes on the roads around you) yet it is a whole army of critics who call this technology insecure, ruthless * and a great risk to good, honest Americans. It’s a little wild.
It feels like this “debate” is coming up daily, and after following this technology for about 7 years, I think I have a right to say that some of the arguments are quite “old.”
What triggered a new response to the almost religious hatred of Tesla driver-assisted technology and Tesla̵
Let’s take this in parts. Before we get into the drug, I think it’s worth noting that this is not just a guy with an uninformed, bad attitude on the Tesla Autopilot & FSD. As his Twitter bio says, David is a “Visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, focusing on the future of cities, technology and mobility. Start-up advisor / policy wonk / writer (@CityLab, @Slate, @WIRED, etc).”
I’m going to annoy or even piss off some Tesla fans in this piece, as well as people who think the argument in the tweet above makes sense (because why should I not try to piss off 99% of people reading this), And one way I want to do that first is to say that I guess David is actually a smart, good, thoughtful guy on many topics. But that’s why this kind of logic is so annoying. And also why I sometimes find it confusing. It’s pretty easy to understand why the logic of the tweet is wrong, and it certainly should not be beyond the ability of a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.
What does Tesla Autopilot & FSD do?
I think this case is being glossed over too much. I was going to skip a large part of it myself, but then I realized that much of the problem with this debate may stem from critics not understanding what the Tesla Autopilot and FSD do. I have had Autopilot for years, including the FSD package. I do not yet have the most advanced FSD Beta version that some Tesla owners have tested and helped improve for several months. So much of the information below is from personal experience, and the rest (regarding FSD Beta) is from watching FSD videos from others on social media or researching tweets and statements from Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
- Keeps the car in the lane.
- Holds your car centered in your path better or more consistently than any human can.
- Prevents you from getting into a vehicle if you do not accidentally notice that it is braking or stopping in front of you (and even in the case of a car in front of the car in front of you braking or stopping).
- Switches lanes for you with much bigger vision than you could ever muster alone (10 eyes is better than 2).
- Stops at a red light and stop sign for you, whether you follow or not.
- Driving from ramp to exit on a highway intelligently alone (passing cars as it deems useful).
FSD Beta …
- Do everything above, but better and smoother.
- Basically drives you from parking lot to parking lot with little or no need for intervention, and avoids all kinds of potential obstacles and dangers in the road.
These are all driver assistance functions that theoretically make driving safer. Tesla driver statistics also mean that they actually make driving safer.
What else does Tesla Autopilot & FSD do?
Maybe some critics know all of the above, but know nothing else: a Tesla will warn you repeatedly, obsessively, and with increasing aggressiveness if you do not do your part – keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention to what is happening. You can not really use Autopilot or FSD and think that they are systems you can just turn on and ignore.
Just to emphasize that: Tesla’s system has clear, strong and effective communication methods to warn you to be alert while driving. It is beyond simple ignorance to experience a Tesla on Autopilot / FSD and think that it does not warn you enough to pay attention and take over the car if necessary. The warnings are big and clear. You must pretend that you do not see the warnings to behave as if it is not clear to any drivers whether they must pay attention or not.
What does the Tesla Autopilot & FSD do NOT Do?
Tesla Autopilot and FSD do not yet drive people around a city, and certainly not to such an extent that the driver can take a nap, work, play a game or watch tennis while driving himself. I know of no one who thinks technology can do this. And I have not yet seen anyone using FSD with the assumption that they should not monitor the system closely and intervene from time to time.
How does the Tesla Autopilot or FSD risk life?
With the long intro out of the way, how does the Tesla Autopilot or Full Self-Driving risk life? Real estate saves lives, does not risk them, right?
There is one potential area of weakness. I wrote about it several years ago, but I think Tesla has handled it well.
If it’s someone’s job to be careful with a task, but it turns out that they almost never have anything to do, it’s almost impossible to keep them focused on what to monitor. You maybe says Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving risk lives if Tesla lets drivers ignore the roles of driver, if Tesla makes them feel they do not need to pay attention (or makes them think they do not need to pay attention). But Tesla does not. There are several things in place that keep the driver alert.
So, where is the huge extra risk? What’s dangerous about a car not helping you to get into things?
Addressing the names
Okay, let’s do this.
The names “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” are very controversial. Why?
For years, “Autopilot” has scared people who think it means fully automatic driving. However, that is not what it means, and it has never been what it means. Elon Musk has a background as a pilot, and he knows that Autopilot is assistive technology to help pilots out, not to replace them. It’s the same as in Tesla vehicles. Airplanes do not start pilots just because they have autopilot, and the same goes for cars.
“Full Self-Drive,” or FSD, is a bit of a different matter. In my opinion, it was really too early to use this terminology. Yes, full Self-driving is the long-term intention, which is why Tesla used the term. The hardware in the car should be sufficient for that, but the software is still under development. I bought FSD with full understanding of this, knowing that I do not have to pay for anything else when the software is ready. It makes sense to me, and I do not think you can really buy FSD without understanding this. However, I certainly see how selling a package called “Full Self Driving” confuses some outsiders, makes them nervous and upsets them. Many people think Tesla misleads buyers simply by using this terminology. I do not think that is the case for the reasons explained above, and because FSD costs thousands of dollars (so you not only buy it without finding out what it is), but I can see how the name upsets people and makes them Think Tesla is “ruthless”. I think it would be a good idea for Tesla to just use different terminology – but honestly it is basically only for outsiders and public opinion, not Tesla owners.
* Well, the technology do help people wreck less.
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