Tesla lawsuit: Autopilot unsafe, based on ‘half-baked software’

Tesla’s efforts to maker safer, smarter vehicles has left some owners angry and disappointed with its enhanced Autopilot feature.

Three Tesla drivers on Wednesday sued the Palo Alto electric vehicle maker over delays receiving an upgraded Autopilot feature for their Model S sedans.

The men claim in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose that they purchased an enhanced version of Autopilot — a driver assist package that helps steer, brake and otherwise control the vehicle — for $5,000 with the promise the system would be installed by December.

Tesla has not completed its Autopilot software upgrade and as a result the cars are less safe, the suit charges.

“Rather than deliver safe and advanced autopilot features, Tesla has delivered software that causes vehicles to behave erratically,” the suit says. “Contrary to what Tesla represented to them, buyers of affected vehicles have become beta testers of half-baked software that renders Tesla vehicles dangerous if engaged.”

A Tesla spokesperson said the suit misstated several facts about Autopilot and its scheduled release. Several features the Tesla owners claim are unavailable are actually in vehicles, according to the company.

“We have always been transparent about the fact that enhanced Autopilot software is a product that would roll out incrementally over time, and that features would continue to be introduced as validation is completed, subject to regulatory approval,” the company said in a statement.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has posted regular updates about Autopilot and the new hardware suite, known as HW2, on social media.

Musk also said the feature has made the vehicles much safer. The company has aggressively brought the technology to drivers, collecting million of miles of driving data to improve the system’s function. “This does not mean perfect safety,” Musk said in September. “Perfect safety is really an impossible goal.”

The company announced in October that all new vehicles would be equipped with hardware to allow them to operate as fully autonomous cars.  “Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving transportation safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future,” the company said. “Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver.”

Autopilot was engaged last year in a fatal Florida crash, where the system and driver failed to recognize a tractor-trailer crossing in front of the vehicle on a divided highway. Federal investigators found the system operated as it was designed, although they alerted Tesla that calling the feature Autopilot could mislead drivers.

The federal suit focuses on drivers who have purchased or leased a Tesla since September, when the company announced the overhaul of Autopilot.  Tesla has sold about 47,000 Model S and Model X vehicles in the last six months equipped with additional hardware, including radar, cameras and a high-powered processor, to enable the enhanced safety features.

Photo: An exterior view of a Tesla Model S. (Dai Sugano/Mercury News)


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  • Joseph Brown

    The lawsuit is frivolous.

    The feature was clearly not ready. The plaintiffs had a clear choice between ‘Pay now, for something that isn’t ready’ and ‘Do not pay’; they chose the ‘Pay now’ option, gambling that it would save them money over paying for the same features later.

    They have received exactly what they paid for: continuous, up to the moment updates, up to and including getting the finished product. That they regret their well-informed decision in hindsight is inadequate grounds for trying to shift responsibility to Tesla. They gambled and feel like they lost, tough noogies; they could have easily chosen to delay purchase of those specific features, and kept every single of those dollars in their pockets.