Tesla's "semi-autonomous" system doesn't take care of everything. That would be a future fully autonomous car.
"Semi-autonomous is the hardest," Atkins said. "The autonomy has to predict what the human is going to do, especially when giving control back to the human. The human has to understand what the autonomy is doing and when it has to stop. Or the human will be surprised when they regain control, if they are surprised they are not going to be thinking about the right reactions."
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that many Tesla drivers are so enthusiastic about the new hands-free driving that they may be getting ahead of the technology's limits.
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The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said it is investigating the Florida crash which occurred May 7, as well as a crash near Pittsburgh last week involving a Tesla Model X SUV.
Tesla says that as more people use Autopilot, the software will learn more about the kind of rare instances that may have led to the crashes.
"As more real-world miles accumulate and the software logic accounts for increasingly rare events, the probability of injury will keep decreasing," Tesla said in a June 30 statement. "Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving."
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The Autopilot software collects information about all the driver's habits. This data could be key to making the beta version of a new driving system work better, according to Benjamin Kuipers, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan.
"Knowing what data to collect, sometimes you need to have a failure," said Kuipers, who runs the Intelligent Robotics Lab at Michigan. "Hopefully, it doesn't involve loss of a human life."