Infamous Tesla hacker, Green, discovered an Autopilot mode hidden in Tesla’s software that has fewer driver monitoring alerts. The new software is said to allow drivers to drive without putting their hands on the steering wheel for longer durations. This update from the automotive giant, that lessens the alerts to apply torque to steering wheel, has garnered concerns from the U.S safety regulators.
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The term ‘Elon Mode’ was coined by Green as the software’s name was suggestive of the fact that it was meant for executive testing. In a new letter to Tesla released by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week, the regulators are demanding additional details on what the mode entails, the number of vehicles who have access to it and the EV-maker’s distribution plans for the same.
John Donaldson, NHTSA’s acting chief counsel wrote a letter to Tesla pointing to the concerns that may arise following public knowledge of the existence of sucha feature. More and more drivers may attempt to activate the feature which might have potential risks. The feature, he added, might be a contributor to inattention on the part of the driver which could prove to be fatal.
Total game changer.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 30, 2023
If you haven’t tried Tesla Autopilot, you don’t know how awesome it is. https://t.co/1j4rBp7Ysr
NHTSA had earlier shut down ‘defeat devices’ which were meant to enable drivers to enable the autopilot nag. The autopilot mode uncovered by Green is sparking multiple concerns and hence, is under scrutiny from the feds.
There have been ongoing investigations surrounding Autopilot crashes into emergency vehicles parked on freeways, crossing tractor-trailers and bumping into motorcycles. Approximately 35 Tesla crashes that might be connected to automated driving systems and have resulted in the death of around 17 people, are being probed since 2016 and a formal investigation was ordered in 2021.
Tesla mentions that the primary function an autopilot mode is to keep the car in its lane and at an ideal distance from the objects ahead of it. Despite this, it necessitates human intervention.
According to the special order, Tesla must outline changes to the software update that lessen or do away with instances in which Autopilot instructs users to turn the wheel harder, “including the amount of time that Autopilot is allowed to operate without prompting torque, and any warnings or chimes that are presented to the driver.” The Austin, Texas-based business is required to explain why it deployed the software upgrade and how it justifies which customers received it in the letter to Tesla Senior Legal Director Dinna Eskin.
Additionally, it looks for information on collisions and near-collisions involving vehicles that have the software update. “Your response should include any plans you have to enable the subject software in consumer vehicles within the next calendar year,” Donaldson said in the letter. Jake Fisher, who heads auto testing for Consumer Reports, had said that when the company introduced autopilot in 2015, it wanted drivers to monitor the torque in the steering wheel and intervene in case they did not feel the torque for more than 3 minutes (this was later reduced to 30 seconds).