The US automaker Tesla has repeatedly pushed safety concerns aside when developing its own driver assistance systems in order to meet the wishes of company boss Elon Musk for rapid progress. This comes from research by the New York Times, which spoke to 19 people who have worked at Tesla in the past few years.
The statements also confirm the image of a company that keeps pushing the industry forward with grandiose announcements about autonomous driving, but which then often cannot keep its promises. In detail, it is also about the fact that Tesla – for cost reasons – aims to enable autonomous driving only through cameras, because, according to Musk, “people only have two eyes”.
The report by the US newspaper comes at a time when Tesla’s handling of the “Autopilot” and, above all, “Full Self Driving (FSD)” driver assistance systems are once again the focus of attention. For example, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) demanded in September that Tesla must first address “fundamental safety problems” before FSD could be made available in the vehicles. Your transportation agency is investigating the accidents in the U.S. transportation system. When Musk first publicly asserted in October 2016 that all new Tesla vehicles met the requirements to “drive completely yourself” – and thereby introduced the term “full self driving”, that caused surprise internally and the concern that your boss promises impossible quoted the New York Times.
Even at the beginning of the development of the system called “Autopilot” there was a contradiction in the engineering team because the name suggests an autonomy that the technology cannot provide. So there was a suggestion that the system should be called “co-pilot” instead. However, the developers were unable to assert themselves, writes the newspaper. Even if the vehicles back then relied on cameras, radar and audio sensors, Musk had already demanded that they should get by with cameras at some point. This demand was repeated again and again in the years that followed, even if there were clear concerns. In the company, however, the focus has shifted accordingly and Musk’s request is also receiving encouragement. Tesla does without the usual lidar technology.
The newspaper also cites anecdotes that illustrate Musk’s approach. In mid-2015, an experienced manager spoke out to Musk in favor of installing a computer chip and other hardware in the Teslas that monitors the driver assistance hardware and, if necessary, could take over if it fails. Musk – who was annoyed that the “autopilot” in his Tesla did not work that morning – brusquely refused and “killed” the manager. Months before, Musk criticized the cladding of the radar sensor and asked for a cover, although some employees had warned that snow and ice could collect in it and block the technology. The company did not want to comment on the New York Times report.
An episode also described turns around a promotional video, with which Tesla is still promoting version 2.0 of the “Autopilot” system. It supposedly shows a Tesla that is fully autonomous in the country and in the city. According to the anonymous sources, the entire route had been scanned in three dimensions beforehand, so the vehicle had a digital map available that is normally not available. Nevertheless, the car hit a lane at one point and had to be repaired. This cannot be seen in the video; it gives the impression that the car is completely autonomous. Five years later, however, that is still just a promise. Also in Teslas with the “Autopilot” and “Full Self Driving” drivers should keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times so that they can intervene if necessary.