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Tesla Motors’ Autopilot, which allows recent versions of the Model S and just-introduced Model X to be driven semi-autonomously, is apparently very much a work in progress.
Videos posted by tech website CNET show a Model S operating in Autopilot mode appear to lunge suddenly toward the side of the road and into incoming traffic.
In both incidents, the drivers of the cars were able to manually take over and steer to avoid accidents.
But the videos underscore Tesla CEO Elon Musk‘s repeated warnings during a press conference introducing Autopilot that the system was a beta release and that drivers needed to be cautious.
“We’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel,” Musk said. “You need to be ready to take the wheel at any time.”
Autopilot allows the Model S to drive itself on freeways, automatically change lanes and parallel park without intervention from the driver. It works by gathering information from nearby cars, lane position and other data from ultrasonic sensors, a forward-facing camera and radar and GPS married to highly precise maps.
But Musk admitted that the system bogs down when lane markings are unclear and in heavy precipitation. He cited a section of L.A.’s notorious 405 Freeway where, during testing, the system was vexed by a combination of faded pavement markers and diverging lanes.
“The system could not figure out which is the real lane and would go into the wrong lane,” he said. “It works best where the infrastructure is good. You want clear makings on the road or to be in quite dense traffic. That’s the places it works really well.”
Despite these glitches, Musk said that as Autopilot was refined, it would outperform human drivers.
“In the long term, it will be safer than a person driving,” he said.
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