In the last few weeks, there have been several videos showing people doing really dumb things with their Teslas. A software update in mid-October added an "autopilot" function to the Model S, which lets it drive itself in certain circumstances. Turn it on, and the Model S will maintain a safe distance from other cars on the highway, and even change lanes on command. Yet Tesla was super clear that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel. But some people have not only ignored that, they've even posted videos to YouTube as they fully surrender to the vehicle.
Autonomous cars are on their way, but they're nowhere close to arriving at their destination. Videos like the one above show the kind of behavior that will likely make it more difficult for them to get there.
There are two visions for autonomous vehicles. In one conception, the driver can take control of the car, or the car only takes over in a particular set of circumstances. In other other, self driving cars completely control all systems, at all times. The former is what cars, like the Tesla Model S which includes a robust autopilot system, are capable of today. The latter is what Google's prototype self-driving car does (and what Uber is widely expected to be working on).
The argument for going fully autonomous is essentially that you should not have a system with two pilots, because it makes failure more likely. In one hypothetical, let's say the car goes into autonomous mode, and the human behind the wheel goes to sleep and is unable to deal with something that comes up on the road that the car isn't programmed to handle. Or, in another scenario, some joker in Holland puts a Model S into autopilot mode and then climbs completely out of the driver's seat.
This second scenario is happening. It's playing out on YouTube, where Tesla owners (or someone who's obtained their footage) upload videos of reckless experimentation of people testing the limits of just how far these autopilot systems can go. Elon Musk, for one, does not appreciate the liberties being taken with the technology, and has vowed to update the Tesla's autopilot — possible, because Tesla is able to push out what is essentially a software update to all its cars — to ensure that this behavior doesn't become more commonplace.
But even so, videos like these featuring unsanctioned road tests of technology in ways it wasn't intended are valuable in that they show us a future that we don't want to arrive at. And, counterintuitively, they also make a strong case for cars that don't just assist someone behind the wheel, they completely replace the human pilot altogether.
Brendan Klinkenberg is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Brendan Klinkenberg at email@example.com.
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