Videos of Tesla's new Autopilot feature making mistakes and driving their passengers towards railings and into oncoming traffic have appeared online just days after it became available. In the instances we have found, the drivers grab the wheel to avoid a collision due to a mistake made by the software, which Tesla says is a 'hands-on' experience and is still in a beta testing phase.
But there is more to this story than Tesla's self-driving software making mistakes. Tesla and boss Elon Musk say Autopilot can only be used on motorways, where multiple lanes mean there are markers on the road at both sides of the car, which it uses to operate the steering. The system also requires drivers to lightly touch the steering wheel at all times, preferably with the fingertips of their upturned hands resting on their legs. Drivers are told to only use Autopilot on motorways (or freeways in the US), and to touch the wheel at all times, every time they switch the feature on.
However, according to multiple videos posted to YouTube, the system can easily be tricked into working when the driver is not touching the wheel and when the car is not on a motorway. In the first video below a Tesla Model S twice veers onto the wrong side of the road; the second time right into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The driver, who should not have used the system on such a road, quickly grabs the wheels to prevent a collision.
The owner, who claims his Model S P90D has every available option and that he owns "a large chunk of Tesla stock", said: "After several seconds of successful hands-free driving, I admit I started to ignore the warning to keep my hands on the wheel so that I could record the moment to share with friends."
While the driver filmed instead of holding the wheel, the Model S was confused by the lack of motorway lane markings and moved left, towards an oncoming car. The owner, who goes on YouTube by the name of RockTreeStar, explained: "My car apparently thought the oncoming car was supposed to be followed, and suddenly veered to the left, crossing the double-yellow road divider line right into its path."
The second video, below, shows a demonstration of Autopilot going well, with the car accelerating, braking and steering itself along a motorway, using the lane markings and surrounding traffic to work out what to do and where it should be going. But instead of taking control on the exit slip road, as he is asked to by the car's dashboard display, the driver lets the car navigate itself onto a single-lane road with no white line on the left side. Confused by no markings and a lay-by to the side, the car veers off to the right.
In the final video, one Tesla owner flouts just about every driving law known to man by sitting in the back seat of his Model S, leaving the car to drive itself along a winding road, which the publisher of the video claims to be private and closed.
The publisher, Jason Hughes, does not claim to have attempted the stunt himself, but has posted other videos of an identical Tesla which he states is his.
Having seen the above videos, a Tesla spokesperson told IBTimes UK: "The latest Autopilot release is a hands-on experience to give drivers more confidence behind the wheel, increase their safety on the road and make motorway driving more enjoyable. The driver cannot abdicate responsibility for driving the vehicle."
The Autopilot hardware has been installed on Model S vehicles produced in the last 12 months, and the feature will, according to Musk, be coming as a software update to Teslas in the UK and Europe in the coming weeks, pending regulatory approval.