Having your car drive for you may seem like a dream, but it’s already a reality. The problem is that driverless technology still has to be finessed. Right now the only carmaker beta testing autopilot tech on the public is Tesla. Mashable reports that all other carmakers refuse to do the same because it’s not safe: “Simply having a warning about the system being in beta testing doesn’t do enough to impart the gravity of a system failure.”
Beta testing implies that a product is closer to completion than it was during alpha testing, but it’s still not 100% done yet. So if Tesla’s driverless technology isn’t totally finished yet, why has the company put it in the public’s hands? That’s a question at the forefront of the driverless tech conversation now that the first-known Tesla semi-autonomous fatality has occurred.
On June 30th, Tesla issued a press release about the “tragic loss,” claiming it was the first known Autopilot-related death in more than 130 million miles. The accident occurred when the Tesla Model S collided into a tractor trailer that had driven across the highway. Tesla wrote, “Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.” If the Model S had collided with the front or rear of the trailer, Tesla claimed the car’s advanced crash safety system would have prevented the driver’s fatality.
Tesla added that Autopilot is disabled by default and can only be enabled with the driver’s knowledge of the beta technology and consent to use it. In addition to expressing condolences for the driver, the press release also contained this crucial statement: “Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert.”
Currently, there are no federal laws regulating the testing of driverless car technology.