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Tesla Releases New Autopilot “Navigate” Feature

But it still merely suggests lane changes; the driver must make the final call

2 min read
Still image from Tesla video showing the autopilot navigation.
Image: Tesla

Tesla said on Friday that the company’s latest robocar system can guide “a car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, including suggesting and making lane changes, navigating highway interchanges, and taking exits.”

Note the word “suggesting.” Though the feature, called Navigate, is part of the just-released version 9 of Autopilot, and though it does more detailed analysis than before, it doesn’t do more actual driving. The human being behind the wheel must still stand ready to supervise, to intervene, and to initiate any lane changes, by flicking the turn stalk.

That flick-the-stalk requirement was instituted back in May 2015, as this blog reported in a post entitled “Tesla's Robocar to Driver: Accept the Liability, Buster.” Yet despite Tesla’s effort to make drivers pay attention to the road, almost one year later—on 7 May 2016—a distracted driver died after slamming his Tesla Model S into a truck. That death hit the industry hard.

So after all these years, a Tesla is allowed only to suggest making a turn. And that’s precisely what rival cars do, notably the Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise—which our own Lawrence Ulrich calls the current standard for self-driving prowess in a production car. Then again, Super Cruise was never billed as being anything more than a driver’s helper; its very name is unprepossessing.

Other companies have also been scaling back their robocar promises. Waymo, arguably the industry leader, was to have started a true commercial ride-hailing program by about now, but the project, based near Phoenix, Ariz., is making baby steps past the pilot stage. Last week the Financial Times quoted Ruth Porat, the chief financial officer of Alphabet, Waymo’s parent company, as telling industry analysts that though people were now indeed paying for rides, commercialization was still “in very early days.”

So Tesla is not alone in facing headwinds. But Elon Musk, its mercurial chief executive, has made far more “I got this” robocar promises than anyone else. The very name of Autopilot has been criticized for overpromising.

Two years ago this month, Musk said a Tesla car would drive itself from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017. It didn’t happen. Now he’s saying only that the cross-country demo will follow the release of version 10 of Autopilot, but this time around, he’s not providing a firm date. (Musk now speaks just as Tesla’s chief executive, having been shorn of his chairman’s title after getting into trouble over financial statements he made in a tweet.)

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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