Autonomous Vehicles


Autopilot Update Glitch Reportedly Adds to Tesla’s Woes

Over-the-air updates to the latest version of Tesla’s Autopilot system have left some owners temporarily unable to use the feature at all, the automotive blog Jalopnik reports. The reported glitch could put two of the company’s flagship capabilities in a negative light even as it wrestles with controversy over CEO Elon Musk.

Musk has promoted the new version, Autopilot 9, as a major advance in Tesla’s vaunted self-driving capability, though still far short of being able to handle all driving tasks. The fact that Tesla can distribute new software over wireless networks, without owners needing to bring their cars into a dealership, is another major selling point for the company. Over-the-air updates have been used to deliver higher performance, longer range and other improvements.

But some customers who have received Autopilot 9 got error messages when they tried to activate it, according to a September 13 Jalopnik story. Tesla has been distributing the software to some drivers over the past week, the site reported.

After trying to activate the new software, drivers said they couldn’t turn on Autopilot at all. One who contacted Tesla about the problem was told Tesla knew about the issue and was working on it. Some drivers reported on forums that they were instructed to contact a service center for a visit, which in this case might defeat the purpose of having over-the-air updates in the first place. Some drivers paid as much as $5,000 to add Autopilot to their cars.

Also on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that a Tesla owner in North Carolina complained his Model S ran into the wall of his garage while being operated by a feature for bringing a car to its owner.

The owner, Mangesh Gururaj, said his wife was using the “Summon” feature to back the car out of their home garage when it hit the wall, ripping off the car’s front panel. No one was hurt in the crash. Gururaj said he had considered Summon one of the car’s coolest features and used it many times but was disillusioned by the incident.

When Summon was introduced in 2016, Musk said that within two years it would let owners retrieve their cars from anywhere other than across an ocean or border. In conjuring the vision of cross-country car retrieval, Musk was essentially promising full Level 5 autonomy by 2018, something no automaker has come close to realizing in that time.

The way things have actually played out, Tesla still requires drivers to stay behind the wheel and be ready to take over while Summon is working. In fact, Tesla still considers Summon to be a beta feature, basically in testing by customers. The company told the Washington Post that the owner’s manual advises Summon can’t detect some objects, including things that are lower than the bumper or narrower than a bicycle. Tesla did not respond to a TU Automotive request for comment.

Autopilot, Tesla’s CEO, and self-driving technology itself have been under fire for much of this year. Some surveys show consumers becoming more wary about autonomous vehicles.

Tesla says all its current cars have the hardware for full self-driving at a level safer than human drivers, but it’s still developing the software to go with it. The new version, Autopilot 9, is designed for “onramp to offramp” automated driving on controlled-access highways. It will allow a car to automatically guide itself along a route it’s chosen, navigate a changing set of lanes and automatically attempt lane changes, Musk told investors last month on a call announcing Tesla’s second-quarter financial results.

Among other things, the new software is intended to be able to negotiate the merging of two lanes and smoothly join the line of cars next to it, Musk told a driver on Twitter in June.

Numerous incidents have raised questions about the safety of Autopilot, though in some cases, investigators said it wasn’t the cause. Tesla has blamed some crashes on driver misuse and has tightened its system for warning drivers to stay in control of the car.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.


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