Tesla’s decision to call its driver-assist software Autopilot has been the topic of conversation for years, with many saying it is misleading because it doesn’t make the car fully autonomous. The latest to echo that sentiment is US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday Buttigieg, the top U.S. transportation official, expressed his concern with the name and said it shouldn’t be called Autopilot because the vehicles are not capable of driving themselves and still require the driver to be attentive.
“I don’t think that something should be called, for example, an Autopilot, when the fine print says you need to have your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times,” Buttigieg said.
This is not the first time Autopilot’s name and the requirement for drivers to remain attentive has been called into question, even though the actual definition of Autopilot, which comes from the aviation industry, makes no mention of such a requirement.
In 2019 Tesla faced a lawsuit in Germany from the consumer protection agency Wettbewerbszentrale, which claimed Tesla’s use of the term Autopilot was misleading. Tesla ended up losing that case after a court in Munich agreed that the term was misleading for the average buyer, with the court banning Tesla from using certain phrases that contain the word “Autopilot” or autonomous driving functions in its advertising materials.
Tesla did end up changing their terminology in Germany while appealing the decision, a case which was finally decided in Tesla’s favour last year, giving them the go ahead to use the words “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” in marketing
Elon Musk was not happy with the initial decision, saying on Twitter that the name was borrowed from the aviation term, the definition of which still requires pilots and the software only assists them in doing their job, just like Autopilot.
Tesla Autopilot was literally named after the term used in aviation. Also, what about Autobahn!?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 14, 2020
Buttigieg isn’t along in his concerns about the term Autopilot. Last year the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) submitted a pair of complaints about Tesla’s advertising to the Office of Administrative Hearings accusing Tesla of misrepresenting Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features. There has been no decision yet on that case.