Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst for Navigant, recently told Business Insider that Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s comments about Tesla’s autopilot capabilities could put drivers at risk.
Business Insider reports that on Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call, the company’s CEO Elon Musk claimed that the semiautonomous driver-assistance system in the company’s cars was capable of full autonomy on highways; essentially stating that all Tesla vehicles with this system installed were driverless cars. “We already have full self-driving capability on highways,” Musk said. “So from highway on-ramp to highway exit, including passing cars and going from one highway interchange to another, full self-driving capability is there.”
A Tesla spokesperson told Business Insider that Musk was discussing technology that had yet to be released to the public when referencing the cars self-driving capabilities. Musk added during the call that “in a few weeks” Tesla would be allowing some owners in certain markets to disable an Autopilot setting which required them to approve the change of lanes suggested by the vehicle.
Tesla’s “autopilot” is classified as a level-2 system by the Society of Automotive Engineers in their classification of autonomous driving systems; this means that the system can automate certain elements of driving but the driver must stay alert at all times. Driverless cars developed by companies such as Alphabet’s Waymo are classified as a level-4 system as they operate within a geofenced area and only require intervention from an in-vehicle safety operator during particularly difficult tasks.
Mary Cummings, a professor at Duke who studies the interaction between humans and autonomous driving systems, commented on Musk’s claims that Tesla cars will be able to operate autonomously on highways saying “He’s wrong, but it’s his job to sell cars.”
Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst for Navigant, called Musk’s comments “reckless” and believes that they could put the lives of Tesla drivers at risk: “Nothing has changed for Elon,” he said. “He remains as reckless as he’s ever been with regard to the way he talks about Autopilot and its capabilities.”
Abuelsamid continued to say: “When somebody like Elon Musk tells his customers that, hey, this is full self-driving now, when it is absolutely not, I think that he is actually putting his customers at risk, because you have to take into account the reality of human behavior with these kinds of systems, and Tesla is not doing that.”
While Tesla does instruct drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times and to pay attention to the road, Musk’s comments about the capabilities of Tesla’s autopilot system and his demonstrations on 60 Minutes and CBS This Morning in which he removes his hands from the wheel as the car is in motion, are more likely to gain the attention of Tesla owners; providing an inaccurate depiction of the car’s capabilities.
While self-driving car technology has advanced, many companies are now realizing that safety aspects may outweigh the convenience of automation “Everybody’s realizing that the problem is a lot harder than they thought,” Abuelsamid said. “They’re not slowing down the rate at which they work, but they’re trying to reset expectations a little bit about when true automated driving capabilities will be a reality in more than just limited environments. And, unfortunately, Elon refuses to acknowledge the obvious in front of him.”
In other news for Tesla, the company’s largest institutional investor just massively cut their stake in Tesla. A recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that T. Rowe Price cut its stake in the company by half. In September the company owned approximately 17.4 million Tesla shares, a stake of approximately 10.2 percent, but new filings show that the fund now owns a 5.2 percent stake in Musk’s electric car maker with around 8.98 million shares. T. Rowe Price was the second largest shareholder behind CEO Elon Musk.