Oi, Elon: You Musk sort out your Autopilot! Tesla loyalists tell of code crashes, near-misses

Carmaker's unpredictable 'super cruise control' tech blamed for ton of close calls

Updated Tesla CEO Elon Musk asked the Tesla owners among his millions of Twitter followers last week what aspect of their electric cars they'd most like to see improved or fixed.

Among the 24,000 or so replied, there's a fair amount of concern about Autopilot, the assistive driving software in Tesla Model S cars.

The first reply came from a Twitter user identified as Mike Leonardi, who wrote, "Autopilot lane changes in traffic really need help!"

Musk replied that's a top priority for Tesla and wrote off the software's shortcomings to an excess of caution.

But Tesla's not been so cautious that it withheld the software from the public. Rather in early October, it introduced Software Version 9.0 for its Model S, Model X, and Model 3 cars, and its mobile app.

The update includes support for a new Autopilot feature called Navigate on Autopilot, "an active guidance feature that, with driver supervision, guides a car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, including suggesting lane changes, navigating highway interchanges and taking exits."

These new capabilities have been slowly rolling out to Tesla owners, but there's concern Autopilot doesn't work very well.

The car biz has plenty of ardent fans who love the idea of beta testing buggy code at high speeds and reflexively characterize critics as trolls or short sellers of Tesla stock. There are of course people who highlight Autopilot problems with an eye toward investment, as can be seen from this tweet.

But there are also customers who worry the technology isn't ready and isn't safe, without an ulterior motive.

Effusive reviews of the latest Autopilot update can be found, as can less positive ones, such as a detailed critique posted to the Tesla Motors Club forum earlier this month that notes Navigate on Autopilot "tries to kill you any time a lane ends."

Twitter user @trumpery45, posting under the name Justin, gathered a collection of replies to the Tesla's leader's request for fix suggestions in his Twitter feed. The Register asked Justin whether we could attribute his observations to a full name but he expressed reticence, citing the potential for harassment by Tesla fanatics.

Via Twitter DM, he explained that as Tesla's ambitions for Autopilot have increased, the gap between hype and reality has become more obvious.

"It is scary to think the intention is to give the car the ability to initiate lane changes and navigate off ramps and on ramps and merges when it has such a dim model of what’s going on at any split second," he said.

The litany of Autopilot woes in Justin's collection describe software that crashes and turns itself off arbitrarily, lack of cross-traffic detection, collisions with off ramp barriers and curbs, radar failures, unexpected swerving, tailgating, ghost braking for overpasses, speed limit database errors, and uneven speed changes, among other ills.

On October 30, Tesla was sued in a Florida state court over claims that the car company "duped consumers into believing its Autopilot add-on feature can safely transport passengers at high speeds with minimal input and oversight from those passengers."

Tesla has maintained that its Autopilot system should only be used when the driver is driving with hands on the wheel. The company did not respond to a request for comment. ®

Updated to add

After this story was published, a Tesla spokesperson pointed to the company’s Q3 safety report and offered this statement about the Autopilot lawsuit:

We don’t like hearing about any accidents in our cars, and we are hopeful that those involved in this incident are recovering. In this case, the car was incapable of transmitting log data to our servers, which has prevented us from reviewing the vehicle’s data from the accident. However, we have no reason to believe that Autopilot malfunctioned or operated other than as designed.

When using Autopilot, it is the driver’s responsibility to remain attentive to their surroundings and in control of the vehicle at all times. Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents, and Tesla goes to great lengths to provide clear instructions about what Autopilot is and is not, including by offering driver instructions when owners test drive and take delivery of their car, before drivers enable Autopilot and every single time they use Autopilot, as well as through the Owner’s Manual and Release Notes for software updates.

Other stories you might like

  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022