Tesla says owners of its electric vehicles have driven 100 million miles using its autonomous Autopilot feature. Sterling Anderson, Tesla's director of Autopilot programs, told a crowd at the EmTech Digital conference today in San Francisco that the data collected from those trips is what the team is using to develop, refine, and introduce more features in the future. The company has around 70,000 vehicles on the road capable of Autopilot, and those who enable it log 2.6 million miles a day. That far outpaces Google's self-driving car program, which has driven more than 1.5 million miles throughout the history of the project.
The company first introduced Autopilot hardware for its Model S sedan in October 2014. A year later, it began rolling out its 7.0 over-the-air software update, which introduced features like auto steer, traffic-aware cruise control, auto park, and auto lane change. It should be noted that Tesla vehicles are not fully autonomous in the way Google's self-driving cars are shaping up to be. But the Model S can now handle a majority of common driving interactions on its own and is fully capable in a highway setting for you to take your hands off the wheel and foot off the pedal.
Tesla stresses that its Autopilot feature is not completely autonomous
That puts Tesla vehicles at Level 2 on the autonomous vehicle spectrum as specified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A fully autonomous vehicle that could be driven without human intervention at any point is considered Level 4.
So Anderson made sure to stress the limitations of Autopilot mean you need a license to sit behind the wheel of a Model S, and that drivers cannot doze off while on the road. "It [Autopilot] should be used with a driver fully engaged, fully in the loop, using their cognitive abilities as they normally would," he said. "You should say, 'I need to stay very in tune with the set of scenarios my car doesn't handle well, I should be very engaged.'" In other words, Anderson added, "be prepared to take over." You also must opt-in to Autopilot to use it on a qualified Model S or Model X, Tesla cautions.
Tesla's lax safeguards have gotten it into trouble
Still, Tesla's lax safeguards have gotten it into trouble, especially considering the software rollout bypasses forthcoming regulations from NHTSA. When Autopilot was first introduced, Model S owners began using the software in dangerous ways and posting videos to YouTube. The company had to beef up the safety features to reduce the chances of stupid accidents, as well as clarify that Autopilot is still an open beta product.
Still, that hasn't stopped customers from pushing the limits. Last week, a driver watched his Model S ram into the back of parked trailer while he was trying to "summon" it, in Tesla parlance, from a parking space without sitting behind the wheel. Tesla then issued another update to make it harder to crash a self-parking car.