We’ve been critical of Tesla’s Autopilot system on hear before. Not necessarily the actual technology, which is actually quite good, but with the testing of it on public roads, making customers live beta testers. However, despite the controversy behind this, Tesla’s owner, Elon Musk, believes that a Tesla will drive across the United States entirely on its own within the next “24 to 36 months”. However, there have been some skeptics of this claim among the auto industry, including Audi USA President, Scott Keogh.
“It’s a definition problem,” said Keogh while talking about Musk’s claims of an autonomous Tesla driving cross country on its own. “If the definition is, I leave my home, I press a button and that car will take me to wherever I want to go, no hands on the wheel, completely autonomously, then it’s not going to happen for a long time. From my point of view, ten-plus years.”
We’ve already heard this before from Audi, as the brand feels that autonomous tech will come in small steps before it’s fully available to the public. “There is going to be an environment with a defined area, an urban area, that will completely gridded, completely mapped,” Keogh explained about the steps of autonomous technology. “All the data and intelligence will be there. Autonomous vehicles will be operating there sooner. The second one is what you see with Audi piloted driving, adaptive cruise control that gets better and better with every generation. You see that in the marketplace now. Then we’re launching traffic-jam assist with the Q7 and A4 which works up to 37 mph and is handling autonomous driving, but every 15 seconds you need to grab the wheel to prove you’re still awake. If the road isn’t lined, if the sensors aren’t reading, then you’re going to have to take control.”
According to Audi, as well as BMW and Toyota, the technology simply isn’t there just yet. Apparently, sensors and lasers simply cannot understand human rhythms or tendencies and an autonomous vehicle does not know the certain unwritten rules of the road that humans do from experience. “A lot of natural human rhythms work in a way that’s very difficult for lasers and sonar to read,” Keogh said, “you have your classic four-way stop intersection in America and we all know there’s a rhythm to how you get across that thing, you stick your nose out a little more, you make eye contact, there’s a common understanding, and then off you go. If the system literally tries to do it by the letter of the law, holding at a stop sign because that’s what the law says, you might be there a couple of hours while people are all edging in.”
So while autonomous technology is a good idea and will slowly tricky into the automotive landscape, we’re just not there yet when it comes to fully autonomous vehicles. The technology to get a car to drive on its own is there, that’s the easy part, but getting a car to drive on its own in a world full of people without causing an issue, that’s an entirely different story.