If you do a quick YouTube search, you’ll see dozens of videos of Tesla Model S owners driving around autonomously. Tesla recently released a software update – it’s so strange saying that about a car – for its Model S that gives the car autonomous driving functionality. Tesla owner, Elon Musk, has claimed that this technology is in beta form and is currently using Model S owners as guinea pigs for the software’s quirks and bugs. He didn’t say it quite like that, but it’s basically what’s happening.
In many of the aforementioned owner videos, you’ll see people doing all sorts of crazy things, like being in the back seat, while no one is in the front, and having the car drive on its own. While that’s fun and all, that could have easily killed someone and is one of the least intelligent things I’ve ever seen done inside of an automobile. But there dozens of videos like this of people playing around with the Model S’ Autopilot function. In Tesla’s defense, it’s since added extra security measures to insure things like this don’t happen anymore.
Tesla’s Autopilot function is still in beta form and shouldn’t be used as a toy. Which is exactly why BMW won’t be releasing full autonomous driving technology until BMW is sure that it works perfectly. According to BMW CEO, Harald Krüger, “We can offer automated driving on the motorway up to 120 kilometers per hour,” to which he continued “But our technology must be 100 percent reliable.” This is a refreshingly responsible approach to this sort of technology. Instead of the metaphorical fist-pumping to come from Tesla about being the first to have fully autonomous driving capabilities on the road, BMW is waiting until it can be sure that the tech is 100 percent safe.
“In the app industry, you can launch products on the market that are 70 to 80 percent ready and then complete their development with the customer,” said Kruger, “That is absolutely impossible with safety features in a car.”
And he’s right. Tesla’s Autopilot system has many bugs and quirks in it, being that it’s still in beta form. Its customers are aware of this and know that there could be some hazards to using it, but telling customers that there’s an autopilot system on the car but to only use it in perfect conditions is like giving a child matches and telling them not to burn the house down. They probably won’t burn the house down, but it’s likely something bad is going to happen.
Tesla’s Autopilot system is great, don’t get me wrong, and is incredibly impressive from a technology standpoint, but it shouldn’t be released to the public yet. In BMW’s, Mercedes-Benz’s and Audi’s systems, the driver must have a hand on the steering wheel, or at least touch it every 10 seconds or so, or else the vehicle will automatically come to a safe stop so as to not endanger anyone’s life. In Tesla’s system, no such safeguard is required, which allows drivers to get into the back seat while its moving. That’s funny and interesting, but what if something happens that the car can’t account for on its own, how is the driver going to get back into the driver’s seat and regain control of the car in time? They wouldn’t be able to and someone could die. That’s the reality of that.
Also, Tesla’s autopilot system can’t account for traffic lights. This is no problem if there are cars in front of it, as it can just follow the leading car, but if it’s the first car in a lane and a traffic light turns red, the Model S will run the light unless the driver takes over. How much fun would that be if you’re not paying attention? Or, during its automatic lane change function, where the drive only operates the turn signal and the car safely changes lanes when it can, if there aren’t clear lane markers the car will just keep on shifting over until it finds one, which can be problematic.
So for BMW, there will be no ‘beta testing’ with its autonomous functions, at least not to the public. “It starts with automatic parking without the driver at the wheel, which we already offer today in our new BMW 7 series version. The next step will be that you get out of the car in front of the parking garage and the car then looks for a space itself and parks,” says Kruger, “It will continue with automated driving on the motorway.”
While there are many detractors to what Kruger is saying, claiming that there’s no way to implement an autonomous driving function that’s 100 percent reliable without public testing, he and BMW are doing the right thing. Beta testing works great for technology such as apps, video games and more, but people can’t die when beta testing apps. Beta testing an autonomous driving function in the public can literally cost lives and BMW understands that better than Tesla, it seems.