Comment: Tesla beta testing raises safety concerns

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Following media coverage of Tesla rolling back the latest update to its so-called ‘Full Self-Driving’ software and the subsequent debate around appearing to beta test functionality in a real-world driving environment, Thatcham Research director of research Matthew Avery comments:

“Tesla has been leading the market with ‘Over The Air’ (OTA) updates for some time now. It’s pioneering ability to instantly improve functionality and performance across its entire suite of vehicles is to be applauded. It was via OTA updates that the brand was able to dramatically improve its safety back-up systems, setting a new benchmark by doing so.

“However, this news is a concern for a number of reasons.

“Firstly, the term ‘Full Self Driving’ is wholly inaccurate. It is not possible to buy and drive a vehicle that’s capable of ‘full self driving’ anywhere in the world today. It’s a driver assistance system which requires constant oversight and engagement from users.

“There’s a huge risk of misinterpretation from drivers receiving this update. If they haven’t read the small print carefully, they might not understand that the system is not ‘self-driving’, and that they, not the vehicle, are entirely liable for safe transit.

“Secondly, this is not a beta test with users of a web browser. Tesla drivers are essentially live testing a ‘minimum viable product’ in a real-world environment. There is a significant risk that the new version does not perform as anticipated, which when combined with a potential mismatch over ‘full self driving’ expectations, could give rise to dangerous uncertainty.

“That Tesla has recognised this and rolled back the update promptly is testament to its cutting-edge use of OTA updates.

“But inviting its customers to try out new functionality is fundamentally dangerous, not least when thrown into the mix with naming conventions that over-sell the alleged self-driving capability of a vehicle.”