Yesterday, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) announced recommended safety fixes for Tesla Autopilot. The recommendations include rebranding Autopilot to make it clear that it is not fully autonomous, and adding redundant driver monitoring to prevent users from tricking the system.
The senator recommended that Tesla “employ a second or third system to monitor driver engagement in different ways,” so that it will be more difficult for a user to trick the steering wheel torque monitoring system.
The senator also took issue with Autopilot marketing, saying, “Tesla should rebrand and remarket Autopilot to make it clear from the beginning that its driver assistance system is not fully autonomous and cannot replace drivers on the road. This rebranding would significantly reduce the confusion that encourages driver misuse of the technology.”
Tesla responded in a public letter that defended Autopilot and pointed to new warnings in the system that would “minimize the potential risk of red light- or stop sign-running as a result of temporary driver inattention.”
The same day, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s campaign posted an ad to YouTube that ended with what seemed to be an implication that Tesla’s Autopilot is replacing jobs “right now.” The ad is airing on TV in Iowa.
It ends with a Model X pulling into a driveway without a human at the controls, while Yang says, “If you don’t think automation and a transforming economy is costing jobs, think again because it’s happening right now.”
It may be true that automation is costing jobs, and that autonomous vehicles will be replacing many jobs in the future. But the automation comments paired with the Autopiloting Tesla seems to suggest that current Autopilot technology is capable of replacing a driver. The ad also shows Yang going down the interstate without touching the steering wheel. Tesla’s Autopilot website repeatedly instructs the driver to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.
It’s interesting that this ad was coincidentally uploaded the same day as Senator Markey’s recommendations were released. While it is debatable and a bit confusing, the ad does seem to lend credence to the senator’s suggestion that people expect more from Autopilot than it is currently capable of.