What was that about failsafes?
A report circulating on the inter webs tell the tale of a Tesla Model S which, on early Friday morning, caught the eye of California Highway patrolmen as it drove above the posted speed limit on the motorway. It’s said that when the officer that spotted the Model S cruising along came up alongside the vehicle, he saw the driver apparently asleep at the wheel, with the Autopilot engaged.
Attempts to wake the driver using the sirens and lights failed, it’s said. 7-minutes and 10-kilometres later, a second patrol car managed to pass the Model S and pulled up ahead of it and gradually slowed down, which forced the Autopilot to bring the vehicle to a halt. Once the car had stopped, it’s reported that it took several more minutes for officers to wake the driver, who was brought to a nearby petrol station where he promptly failed a sobriety test.
This is the second time, according to Palo Alto Online, that such an incident has occurred for the California Highway Patrol. A while back, they encountered another driver, operating his Model S on Autopilot while twice over the legal alcohol limit.
What’s notable in this new story however is that the Tesla managed to operate itself for several minutes and for a considerable distance without any human input at all. Tesla has been knocked for the autonomy afforded its ‘beta’ Autopilot system and its ability to be left almost entirely to its own devices, in stark contrast to competing systems that feature failsafes and disengage if the driver becomes unresponsive to visual, auditory, and physical prompts (or in fact, all three).
We suspect that in the very near future, there will be renewed calls for Elon Musk’s head for continuing to flout laws that continue to restrict the full autonomy of vehicles while autonomous driving systems continue to be perfected. We cannot imagine that this incident, coming after the tragic death of a pedestrian after being struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle, will do much good for the collective autonomous vehicle effort.