Has Tesla found a way to ensure Autopilot users stay focused on the road?

Tesla Model 3
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

The recent string of accidents involving Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system, which have included fatalities, has prompted the automaker to take action. It has released a new version of the system via an over-the-air software update that it believes will help ensure users stay focused on the road ahead.

Autopilot version 2018.21.9 reminds the driver more often to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel. User videos posted on YouTube show the system emitting visual and audible warnings after it detects the driver’s hands are off the steering wheel for about 30 seconds. Previously, it took up to two minutes before the system sent out the warnings. The change applies to the Model S, the Model X, and the Model 3.

The update comes in the wake of several crashes that were blamed on drivers not using Autopilot properly. In May, a 28-year-old woman from Utah rammed into the back of a fire truck she didn’t see because she was looking down at her phone. She escaped with only minor injuries. There’s no word yet on why Autopilot didn’t detect the truck. In March, the driver of a Model X died near San Jose, California, after his crossover veered into a concrete divider and caught fire. Investigators still don’t know why the Model X turned toward the divider but they determined the driver’s hands weren’t on the wheel — and, presumably, his eyes were not on the road — in the moments leading up to the crash.

Tesla began releasing Autopilot version 2018.21.9 on June 10. Not every owner has welcomed the update with open arms. Posting on Twitter, owner Dan Holz called it a step backward for the semi-autonomous technology. Company co-founder and CEO Elon Musk — an avid Twitter user — responded and agreed.

“Sigh. This is crux of matter: can’t make system too annoying or people won’t use it, negatively affecting safety, but also can’t allow people to get too complacent or safety again suffers. Latest update should have a positive effect on latter issue especially,” he wrote. We’ll know for sure at the end of June when Tesla keeps its promise of releasing its first quarterly safety report.


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