Tesla under pressure over Autopilot name

Even after releasing upgrades to Autopilot, Tesla continues to face challenges related to the technology — including its name.

The semi-autonomous technology in the Silicon Valley company’s electric vehicles is being investigated in connection with a fatal crash in Florida in May, and was possibly involved in a fatal crash in China even earlier this year.

Now German officials are asking the company not to use “Autopilot” when advertising the technology, saying it is misleading, Reuters reports. The letter to Tesla follows the German transport authority’s warning to Tesla owners last week to stay alert at all times even when using Autopilot. In addition, Reuters reports that the Dutch agency that approved the use of Autopilot technology in Europe is also concerned about the name.

These concerns aren’t new. California recently released revised proposed rules for self-driving cars, and the Department of Motor Vehicles says it wants to prohibit the advertisement of “lower level” automated technology as “autonomous” or “self-driving” if a human still is responsible for controlling the car.

When asked for comment about the California rules earlier this month, a Tesla spokeswoman told SiliconBeat: “Tesla is reviewing the draft regulations and will provide input to the DMV as appropriate. Autopilot makes driving safer and less stressful, and we have always been clear that it does not make a car autonomous any more than its namesake makes an aircraft autonomous.”

Consumer Reports and others have also called on Tesla to change the name of the technology, which after a recent upgrade now depends on radar, cameras and sensors to help drivers with steering, braking, speed and more. The upgrade includes more frequent warnings to drivers who keep their hands off the wheel, and the disabling of auto steering if a driver ignores three warnings within an hour.

When asked about the news from Germany today, a Tesla spokeswoman repeated the company’s points about the “numerous warnings and notifications” that Autopilot gives drivers about keeping their hands on the wheel.

“We have great faith in our German customers and are not aware of any who have misunderstood the meaning, but would be happy to conduct a survey to assess this,” she said in an email to SiliconBeat.


Photo: The inside of a Tesla vehicle. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


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