Tesla Autopilot is clearly one of the most developed autonomous systems on the market today, but it’s by no means fully driverless, so you do have to pay attention to the road all times. Now the German government has argued that the Autopilot name is misleading, as it suggests that Tesla’s cars can totally drive themselves – and it wants the branding dropped from ads.
Yesterday, the German transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, confirmed to Reuters that his office requested that Tesla “no longer use the misleading term for the driver assistance system of the car”, and since then the debate has continued. Just two days before, Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority also wrote a letter to German owners of Tesla cars, reminding them to stay alert of the road when using their Autopilot systems. According to a report in the Bild am Sonntag, the Federal Motor Transport Authority’s letter to Tesla said: “In order to prevent misunderstanding and incorrect customers’ expectations, we demand that the misleading term Autopilot is no longer used in advertising the system.”
Of course, Tesla has already replied to the situation and a spokesperson has told The Guardian: “Just as in an aeroplane, when used properly, Autopilot reduces driver workload and provides an added layer of safety when compared to purely manual driving.”
Although this debate is about self-driving cars, it isn’t really about the autonomous technology itself – like the boxes or the LIDARS – but more about the public’s perception of it. Truly driverless cars are a long way off, but there’s already evidence of us treating semi-autonomous and temporarily driverless tech like something more advanced than it is. It’s this recklessness that has already resulted in accidents, and it’s why the German government is so keen to see the Autopilot name removed.
While Tesla is indeed right that aeroplane Autopilot systems require the pilots to be alert at all times, the word Autopilot tends to suggest something is happening without thought, or automatically. It’s unclear what will happen next, but the debate comes after a new update made Tesla Autopilot safer than ever. Launched this month, the new update increases the use of each car’s radar system, allowing them to even “see” the road ahead of the car in front.