Tesla is poised to introduce a new level of autonomous driving technology in the US, however authorities say they stand ready “to protect the public against safety risks”.
The Reuters news agency has reported Tesla released an early test version of what it refers to as “full self driving” software to an “undisclosed number of expert, careful drivers”.
Tesla owners responded by posting videos taken by them while experimenting with earlier versions of the company’s autonomous technology.
Tesla boss Elon Musk said the next level of self-driving software will be ready to be released by the end of this year, “with the system to become more robust as (Tesla) collected more data,” the Reuters news agency reported.
A statement issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the authority had been briefed on Tesla’s new feature, “which represents an expansion of its existing driver assistance system”.
NHTSA said the agency “will monitor the new technology closely and will not hesitate to take action to protect (the) public against unreasonable risks to safety”.
Earlier this year, NHTSA said its special crash investigation team had “looked into 19 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed some form of advanced driver assistance system was engaged at the time of the incident,” the Reuters news agency reported.
After initially predicting autonomous-car technology would be available on advanced luxury vehicles by 2020, most of the auto industry has pumped the brakes and extended its deadlines indefinitely, as each brand encounters safety concerns.
At issue is the ability for autonomous tech to ‘read’ traffic signals, pedestrian movements, and cyclists – and then double-check the data in milliseconds, to ensure there are no false readings and that no obstacle has been missed.
The cost of radar, lidar and camera technology is still regarded by many manufacturers as prohibitively expensive.
What is increasingly more likely is for restricted levels of autonomous vehicle technology to be used in freeway environments where lane markings are clear, vehicles are travelling at similar speeds, and there are no traffic lights, pedestrians, or cyclists to detect.
The Reuters news agency reported that “researchers, regulators and insurance groups say true self-driving is still years away and more complex than companies anticipated several years ago”.
Many industry insiders have also criticised Tesla’s promotion of its existing semi-automated Autopilot system as “dangerously misleading”.
A statement issued by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), which includes Ford, General Motors, and Google, said in part: “Public road testing is a serious responsibility and using untrained consumers to validate (test) software on public roads is dangerous and inconsistent with existing guidance and industry norms.”