Consumer Reports (CR) said this morning they were able to easily trick Tesla’s Autopilot system to drive without someone behind the wheel. While it makes for a good headline, their test proved its actually not easy to trick Autopilot, and that it can only be done by going to extreme lengths.
The test was performed following a highly-reported and unfortunate accident this past weekend. Initial reports by local authorities said no one was behind the wheel when a 2019 Model S crashed into a tree in Houston, killing the two occupants.
CEO Elon Musk later refuted those claims, saying data logs from the vehicle showed Autopilot was not engaged at the time of the crash.
CR wanted to see how easy it would be to trick the driver-assist system to drive without someone behind the wheel, so they took a Model Y to their closed-circuit test track.
The first thing they had to do was plug in the seat belt and have their Senior Director of Auto Testing, Jake Fisher sit on top of it in the driver’s seat. This is because Autopilot will automatically disengage if the driver is unbuckled. Safety measure override #1.
Fisher then started driving the Model Y, engaging Autopilot and manually setting the speed limit to zero to bring the car to a complete stop. He then takes two large rolls of tape and attaches them to the steering wheel with a chain. This is because Autopilot will automatically slow the car to a stop if no one is touching the wheel for a certain amount of time. Safety measure override #2.
After hopping over to the passenger seat (opening the door would automatically disable Autopilot – safety measure override #3), Fisher manually adjusts the speed using the steering wheel to get the Model Y moving again. The vehicle then completed several trips across the track, successfully following the painted lines on the test track.
CR blamed Tesla for not having an active driver monitoring system, saying it was “falling behind other automakers like GM and Ford.”
“The car drove up and down the half-mile lane of our track, repeatedly, never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat, never noting that there was no one touching the steering wheel, never noting there was no weight on the seat,” Fisher says. “It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”
Even though CR attempted to paint Tesla in a bad light, their test actually shows there are a number of safety measures in place to avoid this very scenario. Just like anything else, if someone is determined enough to make something work against the manufacturer’s recommendations, they will find a way to do it. The blame for what happens next should be solely on the individual, and not the manufacturer.
Their test also demonstrated that even without someone behind the wheel, the Tesla followed the road flawlessly and did not crash, showing how safe it actually is.
That level of safety is also borne out in the data. Tesla’s latest Q1 2021 safety report shows that when Autopilot is engaged, Tesla’s are nearly 10 times safer than human drivers.
What do you think of Consumer Reports’ test? Let us know in the comments after watching a video of their test below.