Why Tesla And The Government Are Fighting Over The Word “Autopilot”

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Back to news Published 5 months ago Written By Esther Faludi
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The race to roll out fully automated cars is well under way, but the road to regulating this exciting future has been anything but smooth. Now the California DMV has taken issue with Tesla’s ad campaign for its new Autopilot driver-assist system. California wants Tesla to remove the word “autopilot” from its advertising, saying that the name is misleading and could encourage drivers to take their attention off the road entirely. Meanwhile, Tesla feels the new tech deserves its name, and that it makes driving safer.

The Autopilot feature causing the stir is a software update named after the guidance systems used in airplanes. Tesla defends the name, arguing that Autopilot assists drivers similarly to how this trusted technology helps fly planes every day. Using the Autopilot system, Tesla’s cars can now steer, change lanes, control their speed, and park on their own. As awesome and handy as this sounds, a company spokesperson was quoted in The Washington Post clarifying that “[Autopilot] does not make a car autonomous any more than its namesake makes an aircraft autonomous.” Tesla also cautions drivers “to remain engaged and aware” when Autopilot is enabled, says The Verge.

Even with all the caution tape, it’s undeniable that the Autopilot update is a big jump forward toward full automation. At the same time, as explained by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in its draft state regulations released on Friday, words like “auto-pilot” and “self-driving” labels should only apply to vehicles that are able to operate independently, without a human being physically controlling or monitoring its actions. The DMV notes that given the system’s limitations, if drivers engage the guidance system at the wrong time or assume that they don’t have to pay attention to the road, potentially dangerous situations could arise.

The government has a history of difficulty regulating Tesla, given that the company is bent on developing world-changing technology as fast as possible. The DMV’s regulations mark the first time lawmakers have specifically targeted the introduction of entirely automated cars. While California is trying to gain some measure of control over the inevitable entry of completely autonomous vehicles onto its roads, focusing its attack on Tesla’s marketing may end with both parties in court.

However, given the deafening buzz around self-driving cars, negotiations must continue. In September, the U.S. administration released official pointers promoting the benefits of driverless cars, while Google is pushing to perfect its autonomous designs, and Uber wants a piece of the for-hire driverless car market. Tesla and its fearless leader are at the forefront of this movement- and if history class taught us anything, it’s that fearless world-changers usually end up taking a few hits for the team.

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