Now, CNN has interviewed several current and former Tesla employees, all of whom say they raised significant safety concerns during Autopilot development—only to be dismissed by CEO Elon Musk.
Tesla has had a tough couple of months defending its Autopilot advanced cruise control feature. The semi-autonomous technology has been linked to a crash that killed a Tesla driver in May, and brought up in numerous nonfatal accidents since then.
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Those with inside knowledge of how Autopilot was developed and implemented describe a culture that eschewed safety precautions in the name of faster rollout of the new technology. One unnamed source told CNN that the team’s motto was “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the better,” with Musk insisting, “don’t let concerns slow progress.”
Eric Meadows, a former Tesla autopilot engineer who has since been dismissed, told CNN that his initial excitement for the technology turned to fear as he realized its limitations. “I came in with this mentality that Elon had: I want to go from on-ramp to off-ramp and the driver doesn’t have to do anything,” he said.
“The last two months I was scared someone was going to die.”
According to Tesla insiders, Musk initially wanted Autopilot to let drivers abdicate the car’s controls completely, allowing videos to play on the Model S’s giant dashboard touchscreen while the car was in motion. Engineers raised safety and liability concerns, and Musk eventually relented, a former Tesla executive told CNN.
Early reports from the fatal Model S Autopilot crash indicated that the driver may have been watching a movie on a portable video player at the time of impact.
Tesla’s willingness to break from the slow-and-steady pace of traditional automakers is part of what has earned the electric car company so many fans. Where it can take years for a new tech advancement to be incorporated in a traditional new car lineup, Tesla pushes improvements to car owners nearly immediately via over-the-air updates. But car industry experts told CNN there’s a downside to Tesla’s fast pace.
“It’s hard to believe a Toyota or a Mercedes would make that same tradeoff,” David Keith, an assistant professor of system dynamics at MIT Sloan School of Management, told CNN. “But the whole ethos around Tesla is completely different: they believe in the minimum viable product you get out there that’s safe.”
Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon autonomous car expert, agrees. He says Tesla employees “say it’s an understatement to say [Tesla] is hyperaggressive.” When he has voiced concerns over the limitations of Autopilot, Tesla employees said they have to “wash their hands of it” because “it’s a business decision.”
Read the full CNN article here.
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