Tesla is undoubtedly pushing its Autopilot program quickly, but the company says that its focus is safety. CEO Elon Musk is on record saying that he sees the current version of the program as safer than a human driving without all of Tesla’s semi-autonomous driver assist features – adding that not releasing the system is “killing people with statistics”.
Yet, some Tesla Autopilot engineers are reportedly uncomfortable with the pace of the deployment of the program, according to a new report from CNN.
CNN’s Seth Fiegerman says he conducted interviews with 5 current and former engineers and executives at Tesla, mainly from the Autopilot team. His conclusion is summarized by the headline of his piece: “Elon Musk’s push for autopilot unnerves some Tesla employees“.
The only former employee commenting on record is Eric Meadows, a former Autopilot engineer who was fired from Tesla for “performance reasons” around the time of the release of the Autopilot last year.
“Eric Meadows, a former autopilot engineer at Tesla, recalls testing the feature on a Los Angeles highway in mid-2015, a few months before its release, when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk. The car, he says, had struggled to handle the sharp turns while in autopilot mode.
Meadows knew he was “pushing the limits” of autopilot, but he assumed customers would push those limits too. That’s why the incident worried him.”
The report depicts Elon Musk as the one pushing the program more aggressively. Fiegerman reports the following situation as an example:
In another anecdote recounted by two sources, Musk was told that the sensors used for Tesla’s self-parking feature might have difficulty recognizing something as small as a cat. Musk is said to have responded that given how slow the car moves in this parking mode, it would only be dangerous to “a comatose cat.”
Interestingly, Fiegerman says that the Autopilot team’s motto is “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the better”. In order to convince Elon and other Autopilot executives, engineers need to provide the data backing their assertions.
A Tesla spokesperson commented on the report:
“Safety is a top priority at Tesla. We constantly build updates to our software and specifically autopilot features to continue to improve the feature and driver experience.”
The next important update to Tesla’s software is the v8.0, which Tesla started testing in close beta last month.