Tesla CEO Elon Musk says there are no plans to disable the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot software, reports The Wall Street Journal. The news comes as federal regulators at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) continue their investigation into the May 9th crash of a Tesla Model S during which Autopilot was apparently active.
Musk told the Journal in an interview that the company launched Autopilot as quickly as it did because "we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives."
Autopilot is something like an advanced cruise control system that combines radar-cruise control with a steering assist feature that keeps the vehicle in its lane. The idea is to allow drivers to drive from on-ramp to off-ramp on an interstate highway with as little interaction with the car as required.
Other automakers offer some similar, but not quite as hands-free, technologies that reactively help guide cars back into their lane. Tesla’s technology is more actively involved at keeping the car in the lane, and can allow the driver to not touch the steering wheel or pedals for minutes at a time.
The ability of Tesla’s Autopilot to mimic a more advanced autonomous system led one engineer from Volvo to call it a "wannabe" system that "gives you the impression that it’s doing more than it is." That’s a problem, because drivers might expect Autopilot to handle emergency situations that require a driver’s immediate intervention.
In the interview with the Journal, Musk said the company was planning to release an explanatory blog post that explains in more detail how Autopilot works and what is expected of drivers while it is engaged.
The article also says that NHTSA sent a nine-page letter to Tesla requesting information on other crashes where the Autopilot system was involved, with the Journal reporting that the investigation is "homing in" on the car’s automatic emergency braking system.