Autonomous vehicles—both the concept and feasibility—have been a tough sell for most of the public, outside of industry leaders, employers and employees. For this reason, a video posted to Reddit this week on Wednesday showing a Tesla Model X owner using the summon feature to coax the car out of a puddle is a small, but effective way of earning the company new fans, as well as highlighting the often-forgotten practicality of autonomous vehicles.
The feature essentially allows the vehicle to move out of a parking space or garage with no human assistance. The user—who goes by the name billbucket on Reddit— who’d originally posted the video, credited the feature with letting him “park where no one else was willing.” Tesla proudly shared the moment on Twitter:
Opinions about the Safety of Autonomous Vehicles Remain Divided
Beyond a few highly publicized and very dramatic unveilings, CEO Elon Musk is more or less restrained in his praise of the innovative line of automobiles produced by Tesla, focusing the majority of his showmanship on hyping SpaceX’s various ventures, or promoting the groundbreaking work of the “Tesla Energy” division. This may, in fact, be due to the large amount of controversy still surrounding the safety of autonomous vehicles.
The company is still in hot water this week after a Model S that had been set to semi-autonomous Autopilot mode barrelled into a parked fire truck. The Culver City Fire Department shared images of the damage created by the impact on Twitter.
While working a freeway accident this morning, Engine 42 was struck by a #Tesla traveling at 65 mph. The driver reports the vehicle was on autopilot. Amazingly there were no injuries! Please stay alert while driving! #abc7eyewitness#ktla#CulverCity#distracteddrivingpic.twitter.com/RgEmd43tNe— Culver City Firefighters (@CC_Firefighters) January 22, 2018
In a statement following the crash, Tesla cited its Traffic-Aware Cruise Control manual, which clearly states that the Autopilot system “cannot detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 80 km/h and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object is in front of you instead.”
The US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), the most influential agency in the US concerning automobile safety, however, has shown its overwhelming support for autonomous vehicles, citing economic, efficiency, mobility, and most importantly, safety benefits it will bring to the country. It even offers a comprehensive, 6-level chart explaining how driver-assisted technology will continue to evolve in the future.
Specifically, on the subject of safety, the NTSA mentioned “[a]utomated vehicles’ potential to save lives and reduce injuries...[owing to the evidence that] 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the crash equation, which will help protect drivers and passengers, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Given the US government’s official support of these types of vehicles, Musk has made a wise decision: just as autonomous vehicles move on their own, he is allowing this government regulation-industry scheme to play out on its own as well.