The Strategist

Autopilot is undermining Tesla

08/29/2017 - 14:59

Tesla's goal to create its own unmanned vehicle has become a serious problem for the company. Leaders are leaving Elon Musk’s team, and there is growing discontent among the engineers and developers.

David van der Mark
David van der Mark
Almost a year ago, Elon Musk announced commencement of research and developing of an unmanned vehicle. Experts were shocked, given that it was Tesla with Autopilot system that was the first of such machines to get into a fatal accident. But Mr. Musk promised that the new product "will ensure the complete self-control of the car" with "a safety level at least twice as high as what a person can provide."

Within the framework of the project, Tesla cars were equipped with eight cameras for a circular view, a radar and 12 ultrasonic sensors. All of them were deactivated by default. Activation costs extra money. $ 5 thousand package includes four cameras, another $ 3 thousand will go for remaining elements of the system. But even those who are willing to pay cannot use the system yet. This can be done only by official certification. The company does not know how long it will take, yet warns that the system activation will cost more once the necessary certificates are obtained.

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation, Autopilot has not become a product that could reliably control a car without human intervention and ensure safety of passengers. Moreover, soon after Mr. Musk issued his statement, Tesla’s project director Sterling Anderson left the company. According to WSJ sources in the company, he demonstrated his disagreement with the owner and leader of Tesla. For example, when Mr. Anderson was asked why Tesla calls his machines "completely self-governing," while this is not quite so, he simply replied: "So Elon decided."

The project, according to the WSJ, referring to interviews with employees and internal documents of the company received by the editorial board, became the arena of disputes and disagreements in terms of design and marketing, compliance with the deadlines for performance of work and so on. As a result, at least ten engineers and four top managers left the project, including a man who replaced Mr. Anderson as the head of Autopilot, and worked only six months.

Anderson created his own company for development of autonomous vehicles. It is called Aurora Innovation, and which everything there is done "right", he says.

Elon Musk, in turn, declined to comment on the situation with Autopilot for The Wall Street Journal, citing the fact that the newspaper was always hostile to him, and the WSJ’s previous publications newspaper about Tesla disappointed him. "Although there is a possibility that the current article will be an exception, it is so unlikely that I refuse to comment," reads his email to the newspaper.