A Volvo engineer who works on autonomous driving has called Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous driving aid a “wannabe.”
Autopilot is a semi-autonomous system that lets the car take over for the driver – he or she can even release the steering wheel – at highway speeds. Tesla calls it a Level 2 system, meaning that it combines two different technologies in order to offer autonomous driving, but others in the industry, including Ford CEO Mark Fields, say it’s a Level 3 system, meaning that it takes over for the driver on functions that are considered critical for safety.
And so also did Trent Victor, senior technical leader of crash avoidance at Volvo in an interview with The Verge.
“It gives you the impression that it’s doing more than it is,” said Victor, “[Tesla’s Autopilot] is more of an unsupervised wannabe.”
In Victor’s opinion, that means Tesla is overselling its autonomous abilities.
Victor told The Verge that Volvo believes Level 3 autonomous tech is unsafe because it requires the driver to be ready to take over at any moment. The thinking is that drivers may get too distracted to do so.
“It’s important for us as a company, our position on autonomous driving, is to keep it quite different so you know when you’re in semi-autonomous and know when you’re in unsupervised autonomous,” Victor said.
Volvo’s DriveMe concept is a Level 4 autonomous car, meaning it will be able to drive itself and react to unexpected situations without human intervention.
“In our concept, if you don’t take over, if you have fallen asleep or are watching a film, then we will take responsibility still,” Victor said. “We won’t just turn [autonomous mode] off. We take responsibility and we’ll be stopping the vehicle if you don’t take over.”
“That’s a really important step in terms of safety, to make people understand that it’s only an option for them take over,” Victor said. He said the Swedish automaker is “taking responsibility both for crash events, and we’re also programming it for extreme events like people walking in the road even where they’re not supposed to be. There’s a massive amount of work put into making it handle a crash or conflict situations.”
It’s a matter of different ideas: Tesla is betting drivers can take over and take care of themselves, while Volvo is using its autonomous system to keep humans away from trouble in the first place.
The government may eventually intervene with rules of its own – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is already holding hearings to get the public’s input.