Tesla Autopilot Review: Bikers will die

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Tesla Autopilot Review: Bikers will die
By Heather Knight, Roboticist
May 27 2017
https://medium.com/@heatherknight/tesla-autopilot-review-bikers-will-die-212a8be4d8e7

My colleague and I got to take a TESLA Autopilot test drive on highways, curvy California roads, and by the ocean. In case you don’t live in Palo Alto (where the Whole Foods parking lot is full of these things)… the TESLA Autopilot feature is basically a button to turn the car into autonomous driving mode. So the car will speed up or slow down based on what’s in front of it, and supposedly stay in the lane or follow the turns of a road automatically.

Autopilot classified ~30% of other cars, and 1% of bicyclists
The purpose of this post is to share my first impressions of this system, particularly regarding its human-machine interfacing. I’m concerned that some will ignore its limitations and put biker lives at risk; we found the Autopilot’s agnostic behavior around bicyclists to be frightening. But as a human-in-the-loop system, this car’s features would impress Iron Man.

Quick background: Dylan Moore and I work for Dr. Wendy Ju’s research group at Stanford University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. The group sometimes dubs itself “transformers,” because our research is half social robots, half autonomous driving. We often find that insights in one domain cross apply to the other. Long story short, Dylan and I are familiar with the shortcomings of robot perception systems, and care about interface design.

Since it’s our field, Wendy Ju had us rent a TESLA, that way our group could experience the closest thing out there to consumer autonomous driving today. Naturally, we took it to the beach. For research. I share Dylan and my report card for its features below.

Engineering Sexiness Report

B [DOOR HANDLES THAT RECEDE INTO THE FRAME] — super sexy, but watch your fingers! the car detects the proximity of the keys and automatically locks as you walk away. it does miss some of the satisfaction of actively locking a car, because it is not initiated by you, and there is no auditory confirmation that it is locking. (note: system will not actually damage fingers)

A+ [AUTOMATIC LANE SWITCHING] — love it: intuitive, reliable, super cool! switch your left-turn blinker on on the highway and the car will wait for an opening and automatically switch lanes. works great and makes sense to user.

B [CURVES] — the car turns too late to cue human trust. hard to know if it would have worked, we didn’t want to risk it. my phD thesis was about Expressive Motion, so I have ideas of how TESLA could improve people’s trust, but depending on how reliable the car actually is, that might not be a good thing. (see mental model discussion below)

C [USER-SET TARGET VELOCITY] — dangerous: autopilot seeks to achieve the cruise-control set speed as long as there is not an obstacle. this works fine on the a consistent street like a highway, but we discovered the hard way when we exited the highway onto a country road, switched autopilot on, and it tried to go from 30 to 65mph at maximum acceleration. expert users would be familiar with this, but we think tesla can do better.

[snip]

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