Elon Musk is the Pied Piper of Autonomous Vehicles

Today the press reported that Tesla’s do not have a feature in their Autopilot system that monitors if a driver is paying proper attention to the road or able to take over from the AP. While that process cannot actually be made consistently safe, more on the below, this is yet another example of Elon Musk misleading his customers and their families, into paying for the privilege to risk their lives to be Guinea pigs in order to create an autonomous vehicle. The problem is the process Tesla and most AV makers use will never get remotely close to producing a truly autonomous vehicle. Just as with the driver who was banned from driving in the UK for using Tesla’s Autopilot (AP) from the passenger seat a couple weeks ago, this demonstrates Tesla wants its drivers to let go of the steering wheel no matter what their legalese states. If Tesla actually wanted people to keep their hands on the wheel their system wouldn’t allow it to happen. Of course the reason for this is that they need for their customers to not only let go of the wheel but get in the very same accidents they will later scapegoat and abandon them for getting in to. Elon Musk needs to mislead, use and then abandon his paying customers so he can use them and their families as Guinea pigs to train the AI in the “Autopilot” system. The problem is this approach is futile and killing people for no reason.

Public shadow driving is the process where a driver alternates between hands on driving to train the AI and letting go of the wheel so it can be evaluated. Far too many other companies do this as well, Uber being another example. However, Tesla, comma.ai and some others take it further by use their paying customers and their families, not paid drivers, as Guinea pigs. The process is futile because it is impossible to drive and redrive, stumble and restumble on enough scenarios enough times to get anywhere close to L4. Toyota estimates the miles needed are one trillion. My very conservative calculation for cheap cars, sensors and drivers, no other costs, says that is $300B over ten years. To make matters worse though is how unnecessarily dangerous the process is. The process of the vehicle handing over control back to the driver cannot be made consistently safe by any monitoring and control system, especially in complex and dangerous scenarios. This because they cannot provide you the 6–45 seconds of time to gain the proper level of situation awareness to take the right action. Beyond this the AV makers will have to move from public shadow driving hyped benign or simple scenarios to those that are complex and dangerous. Eventually running thousands of accident scenarios thousands of times each. That will mean thousands of casualties.

Unfortunately Elon Musk doesn’t get any of this. He actually said the lives lost in the pursuit of autonomous vehicles are an ends to a means. That some lives need to be lost now to save many more later. The problem being this is not accurate regarding the use of public shadow driving. Musk has also said he only needs 6B miles to get to L4. I believe 4B have been driven so far. That has resulted in Tesla bragging it can now drive straight on a narrow bridge, killing Walter Huang by having his car follow pavement lines vs street marking directly in to a barrier and driving one of their cars into a stopped firetruck. (And that because these systems can’t see non-moving objects right in front of them well. Leaving them to ignore them and drive right through them). On the other side if this though Elon Musk would like to avoid accountability and liability. So Tesla built some legal CYA into their manuals and contracts telling the driver to not let go of the wheel. And if they do they will be to blame for the accidents they are involved in

Elon wants it both ways. He wants to convince his overly trusting customers to pay $5000 for the privilege to risk their lives as Guinea pigs to create a system that will supposedly save lives. Appealing to their desire to be part of a higher good. But he also wants to avoid blame and liability so he creates a legal protection system that abandons his customers when they get in to the accident Tesla needs them to get in. This so the AI can be properly tested. This is why you can see videos of him in his cars with his hands off the wheel. He sends mixed messages to fool people into being his beta testers. All while using a process that will never get close to creating the systems he has convinced his customers and the public will eventually save lives.

What is needed here is for the industry to switch from the use of public shadow driving to the use of aerospace/DoD level simulation. And for someone to step in and force Tesla and Elon Musk to do the right thing. Not unlike what NASA did in 2011 when it said SpaceX code failed safety testing. SpaceX was forced to regroup, hire aerospace engineers and do things right. NASA saved Elon from himself. NHTSA should put a stop to this practice or at least impose a moratorium while these issues are properly vetted. The problem there being that NHTSA is part of the problem. They stated in 2015 that handover can be made safe. The issue there being the study they used to support that position was poorly executed. They determined full control of the vehicle was attained, after being distracted, by simply grabbing the wheel and facing forward. They purposefully chose to ignore the quality of the actions taken after gaining “total control”, the proper situational awareness time needed to perform them properly and if that time could be provided by the monitoring and alert system.

As you can see we have a perfect storm here. The watchdogs are part of the problem. So what is the real solution? Short of more people dying, especially the first child or family needlessly? We need to people, especially those who make up the press and various levels of government, to stopped being overly impressed by the folks who make the apps of their devices or the games that they play, do their due diligence and police an industry that is clearly unable to police itself.

For more information on this please find my other articles

Impediments to Creating an Autonomous Vehicle

Autonomous Levels 4 and 5 will never be reached without Simulation vs Public Shadow Driving for AI

DoT, NHTSA and NTSB are Enabling Autonomous Vehicle Tragedies

Open Letter to Elon Musk — Please consider changing your approach in creating autonomous vehicles

Systems Engineer, Engineering/Program Management -- DoD/Aerospace/IT - Autonomous Systems Air & Ground, FAA Simulation, UAM, V2X, C4ISR, Cybersecurity