You may have heard of some controversy surrounding Tesla’s Autopilot feature in the country of Germany. This is due to concerns that the Autopilot terminology is a dangerous misnomer, as will be discussed in further detail in the sections below.
A German court feels that Tesla has misled its buyers by using the term Autopilot, even though their vehicles are not autonomous. Fully self-driving vehicles are beginning to hit the market, but there is much testing to be done for these vehicles to be safe for use by members of the general public.
The good news is that Tesla continues to make great strides in developing self-driving cars and ensuring that they are tested through a wide variety of scenarios before they hit the roads. Members of the German Parliament have shown that they are optimistic about the development of autonomous vehicles, as will be discussed in further detail below.
Is The Tesla Autopilot Banned In Germany?
In July 2020, a court in Germany ruled that Tesla could not use the term “Autopilot” in its advertisements within the European nation. The ruling was in response to concerns that the term could be misleading since Tesla drivers must remain alert at all times, even if the autopilot feature is fully engaged.
To clarify: Germany is in the process of developing regulations for fully self-driving cars in anticipation of driverless cars hitting the markets in coming years. As Tesla continues to develop new technology, its vehicles could very well be truly autonomous in the near future.
Why Is Autopilot Not Considered Fully Self-Driving Technology?
Tesla currently packages Autopilot and Fully-Self Driving features separately. The company markets its current package as a precursor to what they say will eventually be a driverless car. Tesla does not claim that their cars are truly driverless, which has led to concerns that the names on the software packages themselves are misnomers.
The Autopilot package currently only comes with traffic-aware cruise control and auto steer features. In contrast, an upgrade to the fully self-driving package enables users to access attributes such as automatic parking, autosteer, and traffic and stop sign control.
Germany Will Allow Self-Driving Features
In February 2021, the ministry for transport and digital infrastructure announced intentions for the country to draft new driving laws that would allow autonomous driving. The updated laws will pave the way for Germany to become the first country to regulate Level 4 autonomous driving.
Here is how self-driving vehicles are generally categorized:
- Level 1 autonomous driving: basic driver-assist functions
- Level 2 autonomous driving: includes advanced driver-assist functions, such as those which may allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel on select highways
- Level 3 autonomous driving: artificial intelligence makes decisions based on changing conditions outside the vehicle in select circumstances, such as traffic jams
- Level 4 autonomous driving: the ability for a vehicle to navigate, steer, accelerate, and brake on its own without a driver
Self-driving vehicles will no longer have to obtain the restrictive permits, which have historically only been approved for “people movers” in commercial/industrial areas such as airports and train stations.
Which Vehicles Will Be Allowed On Roads? Where Will They Be Allowed?
For now, the image of self-driving cars speeding down the Autobahn is only a dream. The German government wants to make sure that plenty of research is performed regarding the safety of self-driving vehicles when they are piloted by members of the general public.
The new regulations will open the door for driverless shuttle busses on set routes, self-driving commercial delivery vehicles, and driverless valet services. Still, the sky’s the limit since the same technology used in public transportation or the commercial freight industry can ultimately be included in private vehicles as well.
How Germany Will Regulate Automakers
The German Parliament is also mulling regulations specific to the makers of self-driving cars. One such requirement is the potential inclusion of a safety switch, where a person outside the driverless vehicle can safely deactivate it without being inside.
Liability insurance protocol was also discussed. It appears that the individual responsible for the technical supervision of the car will be held responsible for the safe driving of self-driving cars. In summary, the drafting of liability-related regulations further shows that Germany is readying itself for autonomous vehicles.
Tesla Is Developing New Driverless Technology
As the demand for autonomous vehicles continues to spike, you can be sure that Tesla will remain at the forefront of development. It’s also important to remember that Tesla can still market its many driver assistance features to the German public without name-dropping the Autopilot package, until the highway safety regulators have determined that the technology is safe for use by the general public.
There are many ways that Tesla is making its vehicles safer and more autonomous; chief among them are cameras and sensors that should eventually allow for driverless cars. In the meantime, the following advanced driver assistance features place the Tesla fleet in company with the world’s most advanced vehicles.
Tesla Vision: An Advanced Sensor
Tesla vehicles are equipped with eight different cameras that provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car, at a range of up to 250 meters. The effectiveness of Tesla Vision is likely to determine how soon Germans see fully self-driving cars on their roads.
This is because Tesla announced plans to scrap the radars that were previously a part of the autopilot package, instead of focusing on advanced cameras. This runs counter to what many other automakers are doing since many of these companies make use of radar and lidar systems in their self-driving packages.
Tesla’s justification for ditching the radars is that they have struggled to perform adequately during adverse weather conditions in the past. A camera-centric self-driving system is reportedly harder to develop, but it may pay dividends since cameras cost less money.
Updates To On-Board Computer System
Tesla continues to make onboard computer systems, the future capabilities of which may go a long way in helping Germany decide whether fully autonomous vehicles are safe for use by the general public.
Recent updates have increased the computing power of the onboard system 40-fold. The computing system is tasked with seamlessly running Tesla’s neural net for vision processing software.
Tesla Testing Self-Driving Cars
The burden of proof is on the manufacturer to soothe safety concerns. The good news is that Tesla appears to be taking safety testing seriously. In 2021, the company announced that they are hiring test drivers around the world.
Tesla will, of course, continue to do the in-house testing of its products, but hiring consumers provides them with an excellent opportunity to see precisely how user-friendly the self-driving package is. A successful field testing campaign would certainly encourage countries to enact friendlier regulations and perhaps even update their road infrastructure to be more compatible with this new technology.
Here is what Tesla expects from its Autopilot testers:
- Design test specs and create judgment criteria themselves.
- Routinely communicate with developers and engineers.
- Engage in real-world testing, being sure to take routes that show how the technology responds to obstacles, such as harsh weather.
Who Else Is Testing Autopilot/Self-Driving Systems?
Several other manufacturers worldwide are engaged in their own testing programs, similar to what Tesla is doing. In California alone, 80 different companies are testing 1,400 self-driving vehicles.
Self-driving buses are being tested throughout Japan. These are fitted with sensors that monitor surrounding traffic and signage. Driving software is also synced up with traffic information and geographic information systems so that the busses may follow the same predetermined path every day.
The results have been largely positive so far, with many surveyed passengers saying that they often felt that the driverless car performed just as well as a human. It will be interesting to see how similar driverless bus technology performs in Germany once it is rolled out. Positive results should do much to inspire confidence in the safety of autopilot cars.
In July 2020, a German court banned Tesla from using the term Autopilot out of concerns that the term is misleading. Tesla Autopilot requires that drivers remain attentive to the road at all times, although the package does include many advanced driver assistance features.
Tesla is among the industry leaders when it comes to developing fully self-driving cars. At the same time, the nation of Germany is a leader when it comes to developing a set of regulations in anticipation of fully self-driving cars hitting the roads within the coming years.