Oct 10, 2019

Tesla is beta testing its Autopilot software using real customers

The inside of a Tesla. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tesla is taking a calculated risk by using real customers as beta testers for its still-developing Autopilot software, Bloomberg Businessweek's Zachary Mider writes in this week's cover story.

Why it matters: As new technologies roll out on roads, there is debate over whether it's best to wait for self-driving technology to be perfected, or to put incomplete software on the road where it can save lives as it's improved.

  • "It's possible that both sides are right, that the computers are killing a few drivers who otherwise would have lived, but that they’re also saving the lives of many more," writes Mider.
"Autopilot is unlike almost any other consumer product in history, in ways that offer a preview of the uncomfortable questions we’ll confront in the dawning robot age."

Driving the news: Autopilot, Tesla's assisted-driving software, appears to have played a role in 4 of 5 known fatalities since it was introduced in 2015, Mider writes.

  • Among them was Florida's Jeremy Banner, whose sedan failed to spot a tractor-trailer crossing the 4-lane highway ahead of him. His Tesla hit the truck broadside, and he died instantly.
  • His family is suing Tesla for making a defective car.

Yes, but: Driving killed 40,000 Americans last year and 1.4 million people globally, per Bloomberg Businessweek.

  • Musk has claimed driving with Autopilot is about twice as safe as without it, but there's no published data to prove that assertion, and Tesla's quarterly safety reports are inconclusive.
  • He once said it would be "morally reprehensible" to keep Autopilot off the market.

The latest: In a report out today, Consumer Reports tested Tesla's new Smart Summon parking feature and found it was glitchy, sometimes driving "erratically, like a drunken or distracted driver."

  • Noting that Tesla customers paid $6,000 upfront for self-driving features that are not complete, Jake Fisher, CR's senior director of auto testing, says: "What consumers are really getting is the chance to participate in a kind of science experiment. This is a work in progress."

Go deeper

The wreckage of summer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We usually think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer, with all of the fun and relaxation that goes with it — but this one is just going to remind us of all of the plans that have been ruined by the coronavirus.

Why it matters: If you thought it was stressful to be locked down during the spring, just wait until everyone realizes that all the traditional summer activities we've been looking forward to are largely off-limits this year.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.