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Tesla's release of new 'self-driving' software closely watched by U.S. regulator

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By Tina Bellon and David Shepardson

The U.S. auto safety regulator says it is closely watching Tesla Inc's release of a software version intended to allow its cars to drive themselves, saying it stood ready to protect the public against safety risks.

Tesla on Tuesday night released a beta, or test version, of what it calls a "Full Self Driving" software upgrade to an undisclosed number of "expert, careful" drivers. The release prompted online posts by excited recipients who shared video snippets of their car driving apparently autonomously on city streets at night.

During a Tesla earnings call on Wednesday, Chief Executive Elon Musk said the latest upgrade was planned to be widely released by the end of this year, with the system becoming more robust as it collected more data.

"NHTSA has been briefed on Tesla's new feature, which represents an expansion of its existing driver assistance system. The agency will monitor the new technology closely and will not hesitate to take action to protect (the) public against unreasonable risks to safety," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement.

NHTSA in July said its special crash investigation team had"looked into 19 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed some form of advanced driver assistance system was engaged at the time of the incident."

Musk for years has promised self-driving for the company's vehicles but missed several self-imposed deadlines.

Researchers, regulators and insurance groups say true self-driving is still years away and more complex than companies anticipated several years ago. They have criticized Tesla's promotion of its existing semi-automated Autopilot system as dangerously misleading.

A consortium of self-driving technology companies, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), which includes Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Google's self-driving unit Waymo, criticized Tesla's approach.

"Public road testing is a serious responsibility and using untrained consumers to validate beta-level software on public roads is dangerous and inconsistent with existing guidance and industry norms," PAVE said in a statement.

Autopilot and similar advanced driver assistance systems can provide steering, braking and acceleration support under limited circumstances, generally on highways.

Tesla's website describes the new software release as"Autosteer on City Streets," saying the system requires active driver supervision and does not make the car autonomous.

Tesla owners can purchase "Full Self Driving" for $8,000 in hopes of eventually receiving the upgrade. Musk said early Thursday the price would rise by $2,000 on Monday, but later in the day tweeted U.S. price hikes would be pushed to Thursday next week. Similar price increases will apply in other countries as the test version was released there, he added.

On Twitter, Tesla owners receiving the test version posted videos of their experience, claiming the car "literally sees everything," setting indicators on its own and navigating turns even without clear lane markings.

They also posted a picture of the software update release notes, which said the system "may do the wrong thing at the worst time," urging drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay extra attention.

Reuters could not reach Tesla for comment on NHTSA's statement and to confirm the authenticity of the release note.

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

4 Comments
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It is ironic or is it hypocrisy maybe it is selective paranoia but no country has been able to get a majority of their population to install a Covid-19 tracking App, many sighting privacy concerns.

But so many of these same people will have no problem with the idea if a self driving car.

I know many and have read many comments from people that are pro self driving cars but go on and on about privacy, the Covid Apps, etc...

Di people not realise that all self driving cars will be fully tracked 24/7, every turn, stop, how fast you go, etc...will be noted in the cars then uploaded to a server at some point to help guide the system.

I find the whole idea strange, people are fine with a car that will record, transmit and save all your movements but not a covid tracking App or most anything else that does the same.

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Tesla needs to be working on US Government - Self -Driving Version. We don’t seem to be able to drive ourselves anymore. We can’t figure out where we should go, who is going to be in the car, or who is paying for the trip. This would be much simpler for an AI. Open the pod door.

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Tesla needs to be working on US Government - Self -Driving Version. We don’t seem to be able to drive ourselves anymore. We can’t figure out where we should go, who is going to be in the car, or who is paying for the trip. This would be much simpler for an AI. Open the pod door.

Sigh. For those of us who still like to drive, who prefer analog cars with manual transmissions and no "driving aids" to get in the way or hide our mistakes, who want to be involved in, no make that an essential part of operating the car (or motorcycle) and who derive a lot of enjoyment from the competent and smooth operation thereof, automation, self driving and AI are our emotional death. It's bad enough very few cars still offer a manual transmission and I would bet most drivers have never driven a car without power steering to understand the difference in road feel between manual and power steering systems to be able to appreciate a car that talks to you through the steering wheel. Most are content just to stay in their lane while juggling their Blackberry and a venti chi tea latte as they "drive".

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I can accomplish a downshift using a manual transmission more smoothly than 95% of the automatic transmissions ever made. Most, cough, cough, "drivers' could care less but those of us for whom that sort of thing matters will understand my comment, and why all this automation makes us sad.

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