In July, automotive tech company Mobileye, which had provided parts for Tesla’s Autopilot assisted-driving system, announced that it was ending its relationship with the carmaker. Now Mobileye says it parted ways with Tesla because Autopilot was “pushing the envelope in terms of safety.”
Autopilot — which steers the vehicle more actively than other automated safety systems like automatic braking, steering assist, or adaptive cruise control — has come under heavy scrutiny following a fatal May 2016 crash during which the system was in use.
Despite attempts by Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk to assure owners, regulators, and safety experts that the feature is safe, Mobileye now tells Reuters that the company was sending mixed messages that Autopilot was something that it wasn’t: an autonomous driving product.
For example, Mobileye says Tesla boasted about Autopilot’s autonomous capabilities, while also telling drivers they must keep their hands on the wheel at all times.
Drivers in China recently claimed that Tesla sales people were openly marketing the car there as self-driving, resulting in at least one crash involving a Tesla owner who says he took his hands off the wheel while driving because he believed Autopilot would control the car. Following that incident, Tesla cleared up the language on its Chinese site to remove references that might imply Autopilot is the same as autonomous driving.
“It is not designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner,” Amnon Shashua, chairman for Mobileye, tells Reuters. “No matter how you spin it, (Autopilot) is not designed for that. It is a driver assistance system and not a driverless system.”
In response to Mobileye’s belief that the company is pushing the safety limits with the feature, a rep for Tesla tells Reuters that the company has never described Autopilot as an autonomous technology or self-driving car.
“Since the release of Autopilot, we’ve continuously educated customers on the use of the features, reminding them that they’re responsible to keep their hands on the wheel and remain alert and present when using Autopilot,” the spokeswoman said. “Drivers must be prepared to take control at all times.”
After the potential Autopilot connection to the fatal crash was revealed in June, Tesla announced it was taking steps to ensure the safety of drivers who use Autopilot.
In July, Musk said the company wouldn’t disable the function, but would instead increase efforts to educate owners on how the system works and what to expect when using it.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is and how you turn it on,” Musk said, noting that the carmaker would publish a blog explaining the function soon. The feature is set to off by default until a driver activates it.
Musk stressed at the time that the feature, which launched last fall, was simply a beta feature.
“It says beta specifically so people do not become complacent,” Musk said, adding that disclaimers provided to drivers are “written in super plain language.”
Just this week, the company said it would issue an update to Autopilot making changes to the way in which drivers must keep their hands on the wheel and improvements to the onboard radar system’s ability to detect surroundings through rain, fog, or dust.
Still, the Associated Press reports that the carmaker is facing renewed scrutiny in China after a news report suggested a man killed in a January crash had been using the Autopilot feature.
Mobileye says Tesla was ‘pushing the envelope in terms of safety’ [Reuters]
Tesla’s Autopilot system under scrutiny in fatal China crash [The Associated Press]
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.