Tesla Autopilot fail videos emerge, because nobody likes to listen

A mixture of increased expectations and lowered defenses could spell trouble for Tesla's semi-autonomous technology.

Tesla Autopilot Display
Don't get ahead of yourself...or the car's software.Photo by Tesla

It hasn't been a week, but already, fail videos of Tesla's new Autopilot software are popping up on YouTube. This is not unexpected, as the automaker's founder, Elon Musk, admitted that it's still technically in a beta-testing phase. Still, it has the potential to send the tech-averse into a frenzy, especially when the media gets involved. The only problem with this is that it's not the car's fault as much as it is the driver's.

Tesla made explicit mention, both during its press conference and afterwards on its website, that the driver should remain in control of the vehicle at all times. Yes, there are several videos (CNET's included) showing plenty of hands-off driving, but that was under the supervision of Tesla employees. The automaker's website spells it out explicitly: "Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear. The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car."

If you look at the two videos below, you'll see why it's important to keep your hands on the steering wheel. Towards the end of the first video, the vehicle makes a strange dive to the side of the road, but the owner had his hands on the wheel, so he caught the car before it hit the curb. In the second video, the car appears to dive into oncoming traffic, being saved only when the driver's hands return to the wheel.

This flagrant disregard for the rules is what will doom semi-autonomous driving before it truly takes off. An accident will occur, the media will jump all over it, and everybody will ask if the technology is truly ready for the road. Trouble is, everybody is calling this "autonomous driving" when it still requires plenty of human intervention. A mixture of increased expectations and lowered defenses results in the trouble you saw above. That's why the system is called Autopilot -- it's used when conditions are ideal, and there's still a human to step in when needed.

Thus far, the videos seem to have no affect on Musk's plan to expand Autopilot to markets outside the United States, as evidenced in this tweet from earlier this morning.

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