While I was completing a transcript of the conference call with Elon Musk on Tesla Autopilot under v8.0 of the automaker’s operating system, I realized that a very interesting quote by Musk went mostly unnoticed. Tesla’s CEO defended the company’s decision to push level 3 semi-autonomous system, a system under which the driver basically acts as the backup to the autonomous technology.
Several companies developing self-driving technology, like Google, Ford and Volvo, came out publicly against such a system citing safety concerns with the transfers of controls between the human drivers and the “robot driver”. Instead, they are advocating for a jump directly to level 4 full autonomy.
Last June, Dr. Peter Mertens, Volvo’s research and development chief, took a swipe at Tesla Autopilot, which is considered a level 2 or 3 autonomous system depending on who you ask.
Mertens said: “Every time I drive (Autopilot), I’m convinced it’s trying to kill me”. Ford and Google both said that they want to take drivers completely out of the loop. To be fair, that’s Tesla’s ultimate goal too as it is working for full autonomy, but Musk explained why level 3 is still a very important step toward full autonomy:
“I feel quite strongly that as soon as you have data that says that autonomy improves safety [we should bring it to market]. Even hypothetically 1 or 2 percent safer. There are 1.2 million people dying from automotive accidents a year. One percent is 12,000 lives saved.
During the call, Musk emphasised that the Autopilot is not perfect and it can still make mistakes. He still anticipates a few events of false positive triggering braking events for example, but he says that the early data shows that it reduces the probability of having an accident by 50 percent and he sees potential for a 3 fold increase in safety through fleet learning.
Musk went on to highlight the real reasons why he thinks some companies are against level 3 autonomy:
“And I think it would be morally wrong to withhold functionalities that improve safety simply in order to avoid criticisms or for fear of being involved in lawsuits.”