Reports: Autopilot will go on strike if you're not paying attention

Tesla readies software update after high-profile crashes

Tesla crash

Rumours are emerging that Tesla is going to restrict the behaviour of its controversial Autopilot feature.

The move follows criticism of the company after highly-publicised accidents, including the fatality in May when a car under Autopilot ran underneath a semi-trailer.

Although nobody's offered evidence associating the feature with increased accident rates, the company has been criticised over the feature.

Hence a coming update, reported by, that will switch off autopilot if drivers aren't paying attention. Sources told the outlet the current “disengagement” process will be expanded in a v0.8 software update.

If a driver lets go of the wheel for too long, an alert sounds giving them 15 seconds to respond; after that, music is muted and the car begins to slow down.

Currently, however, if the driver gets rid of the alert by gripping the wheel, they can return to Autopilot mode; in the update, Electrek reports, a driver who ignores the warning will have to stop their car and put the gear-stick into “Park” before they can re-activate Autopilot.

Mind you, that might not solve the problems of the transition to truly self-driving cars.

NASA has been studying autopilots for years in its own context – aeronautics and space – and some of its experts recently told Scientific American they believe an autopilot feature will never suit cars as well as it does aircraft.

One obvious reason, they said, is that an airline or fighter pilot usually has enough clear air around them that they can resume manual control gracefully and over a couple of minutes, following a fixed checklist.

A driver on a highway, on the other hand, needs to react to emergencies in under a second.

The NASA researchers also told Scientific American an autopilot invites trouble, because people have a lot of trouble paying attention when all they're doing is monitoring a process, rather than driving the car themselves.

Which, El Reg supposes, is the point of the mooted software update: to remind drivers that if their attention drifts, it's time to take the wheel and actually drive the car. ®

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