back to article Super Cali: Be realistic, 'autopilot' is bogus – even though the sound of it is something quite precocious

The US state of California says that automakers may no longer label their deluxe cruise control systems as "autopilot" or "autonomous" driving modes. A new set of draft guidelines [PDF] from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) outlines the restrictions the state will place on how assisted driving features may be …

  1. Joe Werner Silver badge
    Flame

    Hell, yeah!

    If the car is not capable of real autonomous driving it should not be advertised as such. Though... automobil means self-driving... ;)

    Tbh I like them Teslas and such, but they are still scary: silent cars. Never realised I rely on my ears that much...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hell, yeah!

      Automobile means self-mobile, as in self-propelled. Nothing about driving itself

    2. The Axe

      Re: Hell, yeah!

      Lots of modern cars are very quiet if not silent. It's the tyre road noise that you'll hear, not the engines in most cars.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hell, yeah!

        No difference between an electric and a hybrid that run on batteries alone at lower speeds in that regard - less tire noise and more fuel efficient cars are often sold with low rolling resistance tires which make less noise.

        Sure, the engine and wind noise is quite audible at 70 mph, but there usually aren't pedestrians around cars going that fast. It is cars going 20-30 mph that it is helpful to hear - especially for kids who won't always remember to look both ways so having them make enough noise to get their attention is a safety benefit.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Hell, yeah!

          "It is cars going 20-30 mph that it is helpful to hear"

          Which is why a bunch of electrics have a noisemaker up front.

          it's usually some form of pink noise generator. I want one that sounds like George Jetson's flying car.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hell, yeah!

      @Joe Werner,

      "If the car is not capable of real autonomous driving it should not be advertised as such. Though... automobil means self-driving... ;)"

      Even though I'm writing from the eastern side of the Atlantic, I'm quite impressed by the manner in which the State of California is handling these things. They're being permissive, sensible and, in the interests of the public good, firm.

      "Wanna test a self-driving vehicle? Go ahead, but here's the rules. And we'll publish the test results too, even if you don't like them". All in all, highly laudable. Someone has to stop self promoting mega rich inexperienced young hipsters from doing/selling dangerous things on a large scale to the detriment of the public, and at least on the topic of self driving cars the State seems to be doing that, and setting a good pattern for regulatory environments the world over. And by letting said hipsters learn from their mistakes, perhaps they'll turn into wiser, if poorer, adults. Everybody wins!

      And now they're forcing some naming sanity on the industry too, quite quickly too after the accidents involving Teslas.

      Rumour reported elsewhere on The Register has it that Google's self driving car team is running into team problems following the unsatisfactory results that CA published. Not surprising, a big group of exclusively young engineers are given a large pot of money to go and do a "cool thing" are being shown the error of their ambition by their own results and don't know what to do about it. Well, tough, that's life, get used to it.

      Successful engineering (and I am a successful engineer) is all about brutal honesty with oneself and with others. Unless you absolutely know for certain that something is going to work, then it is merely speculative experimental development that may, if one is fortunate, produce some interesting results, but it is not a sound basis for an entire corporate strategy on. If you're not brutally honest with oneself, Nature (who as Feynman pointed out cannot be fooled) will be brutally honest with you on your behalf. That's what's happening at Google and Tesla (and probably Uber in due course too).

      So Google and their self driving car? Huh. Count the corner cases involved in a driving algorithm. Can't count them? Well then, you can't write the algorithm. You can't even completely write down in detail what "driving" is. Ergo, no self driving car will happen. Don't even bother to start up the development program. It's less fun that way, but it does mean that you will end up doing a different project that can work and you will meet with success sooner.

      SpaceX, according to rumour, are somewhat similar. Their only merit is that they're "cheaper". But that means they think that all the other launch companies that have ever existed have been needlessly pissing large quantities of cash away on some pointless things. One wonders what those things might be. Afterall, things like workforce size/reward/morale, quality control and profits for shareholders are just as vital to a successful endeavour as a good design and advanced manufacturing techniques. You can't take away any of those things and still have a successful business. And for SpaceX, not even the fabled re-usability is a massive cost saving; practically all you save money-wise is the cost of the raw materials. If you cannot achieve a high re-use count, everything else (the staff, procedures, facilities, supply chain, etc) has to stay in place and remain competent regardless, and that's where the bulk of the money goes.

      "Tbh I like them Teslas and such, but they are still scary: silent cars. Never realised I rely on my ears that much..."

      Me too, having been in a friend's one. Nice performance, terrible range (for my requirements), though I don't like the size of the display screen; far too large.

      Autopilot is a needless distraction for Tesla that may have helped them sell a load of cars but could end up costing them dear. Also, judging from the reactions on social media about Teslas, I'd judge that a lot of their customers are hipster types more interested in the Autopilot than the battery power (though the torque is addictive in the P models). If Autopilot stops being a thing that sells cars, Tesla may lose a bunch of customers and find they've overreached themselves.

      1. 's water music

        Re: Hell, yeah!

        But that means they think that all the other launch companies that have ever existed have been needlessly pissing large quantities of cash away on some pointless things. One wonders what those things might be.

        I am all for skewering Bong!ism but have you ever worked on a defense contract?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hell, yeah!

      "automobil means self-driving"

      I believe it means self-moving. - as opposed to having it hitched to a horse. Or two. Or four. Or six!

    5. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Hell, yeah!

      "If the car is not capable of real autonomous driving it should not be advertised as such. "

      'Tis somewhat depressing that it seems to have required a rule change to make this point. Still, surely *everyone* knows by now that all verifiable claims made in adverts turn out to be verifiably false, don't they?

  2. Andy Tunnah

    Whoever writes these titles

    ...is are an artiste!

    1. Luke Worm

      Re: Whoever writes these titles

      Totally agree! Especially this one was excellent!

      1. gerdesj Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Whoever writes these titles

        Totally agree! Especially this one was excellent!

        It is a belter and is a bit of an el Reg thing - as soon as CA turns up some news then a Super ... strapline is bound to follow.

        The original was a classic - see number 5 in this list and note the Liverpool Echo was the first: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2008/dec/12/joy-of-six-headlines

  3. L05ER

    again?

    great, instead of educating people on what ANY/THE REAL autopilot does... let's just act like the reg and be complete buffoons and act like autopilot should be capable of more than it is.

    and just because California (the single biggest nanny state in the us) agrees with you... doesn't make you correct... it's just makes you like the avg idiotic Californian.

    1. MalIlluminated

      Re: again?

      I'm reminded of Archer S3E1:

      RILEY: Uncuff me, you idiot!

      Holy God, if we overshot our chance to refuel…!

      ARCHER: I thought you put it on auto-pilot!

      RILEY: It just maintains course and altitude!

      It doesn’t know how to find the only airstrip within a thousand

      miles so it can land itself when it needs gas!

      ARCHER: Well, then I misunderstood the concept.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: again?

      Of course! Educate people! Why didn't anyone else think of that?

      People have been trying that since the Enlightenment, if not before. It's never worked yet.

      Or to put it another way: language is about communication. If a large enough majority of the people you're communicating with have a common idea of what a word means, then that is what it means, and it's you, not they, who needs re-educating.

      1. M7S

        Re: again?

        Wicked idea

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Of course! Educate people!

        "Raise awareness". That works.

  4. Stevie

    Bah!

    Headline would scan better if you contracted "autopilot is" to "autopilot's". Now I have an earworm.

    Still no word on a proximity triggered "Yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" klaxon for the Tesla then? So much for "automotive visionaries".

    1. Trilkhai

      Re: Bah!

      Given they correctly put the word 'autopilot' in quotation marks, adding an apostrophe-s to it would turn it into ‘autopilot’s’ — which is even more confusing. (Either way, I'm just glad that El Reg hasn't adopted the "screw it, nobody that reads this site is intelligent enough to know the damned difference anyway" approach to writing quality that the BBC News site has this year.)

      As for a klaxon for Tesla cars, I think a disturbing sound suggesting anything in front of it is about to be electrocuted would be both suitable and entertaining.

      1. Stevie

        Re: Bah!

        And yet if you do what I suggest you can actually sing the headline to the tune of the Mary Poppins song and if you don't you can't, which ruins the clever.

        But I guess you are right about the style-guide stuff. Not sure why that is important enough to invalidate the attempted pun, but I suppose it is.

        Remind me again, from which tablet do we take our instruction on where to put single quotes in cases like this? Or is it one of those arbitrary things handed down from the seventeenth century by some twat who thought English should look like Latin?

  5. Ian Ringrose

    Autopilot on an aircraf.....

    Autopilot on an aircraft is seen as an aid to the pilot, no pilot would think of going to sleep just because the autopilot is turned on to help with the easy bits of the pilot job. Yet people seem to think an autopilot can be trusted to drive a car without the driver being alert.

    Autopilot is the correct name for a system that does not remove the responsibility from the driver!

    1. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Autopilot on an aircraf.....

      "no pilot would think of going to sleep"- True, but it has happened, but one has to assume that one stops thinking when falling asleep or perhaps it's the opposite way around.

    2. Dr. Mouse

      Re: Autopilot on an aircraf.....

      Autopilot on an aircraft is seen as an aid to the pilot, no pilot would think of going to sleep just because the autopilot is turned on to help with the easy bits of the pilot job.

      True, but pilots are given years of training, including in how to use the autopilot. Drivers are trained in the basics of driving a car on the roads (normally the bare minimum required to pass the pathetic driving test), then told to get at it. Most have no idea (in spite of all the warnings Tesla scatter throughout their literature) that the Tesla Autopilot is just an advanced cruise control.

      As I have said from the start, the Autopilot name was the only mistake Tesla made (IMHO). A different name would have brought very different expectations.

      1. Bill Michaelson

        Re: Autopilot on an aircraf.....

        Correct. Even the most sophisticated autopilot system that includes the capability to land the airplane is only there to reduce the workload of the pilot - in order that the pilot can devote more attention to monitoring the progress of the flight more carefully and assuring safe operation. A machine assumes zero responsibility.

        When drivers understand this, so-called self-driving - or whatever we call them - cars will bring a net positive value to us.

      2. Vic

        Re: Autopilot on an aircraf.....

        True, but pilots are given years of training, including in how to use the autopilot

        I had 45 hours of training[1] before I was granted a licence. Many car drivers have more than that before their first solo...

        The point about a pilot's licence is that there is a combination of examination and continuous assessment - with the instructors taking personal responsibility for much of the student's conduct, even if the student is alone in the aircraft.

        Vic.

        [1] That included the two hours of my test...

    3. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: Autopilot on an aircraft is seen as an aid to the pilot, ...

      I think "autopilot" is likely to be taken to mean "pilots itself in most ordinary circumstances".

      What might count as a perfectly adequate set-and-(partly)-forget autopilot for an aeroplane, allowing a pilot to take care of other tasks whilst being prepared to take back control is hopelessly inadequate for coping with the complexities of ground/road traffic: aeroplanes have a much reduced traffic density to care about, and aren't confined to bendy roads with intersections, multifarious obstructions to vision, and so on. A road-traffic autopilot needs to be vastly more sophisticated than one for air-traffic to achieve the same "pilots itself in most ordinary circumstances" ability.

  6. Tromos
    Joke

    In the UK...

    ...these would be advertised as "up to autonomous".

  7. sad_loser
    Stop

    self driving in Europe != success

    I followed a Dutch registered Tesla model X on the outskirts of Cambridge last week that appeared to be in self-driving mode.

    The reason I know this is because it spent most of the time with its outer two wheels way over the white line in the middle of the road, and this would never happen in a normal car - even LHD. The oncoming cars were understandably distressed by this behaviour.

    I think self driving is fine if you are on a big ol' highway in Murica with plenty of room but in Europe it is going be much more challenging.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: self driving in Europe != success

      Was an article in the Guardian a few weeks ago mainly covering whether it was practical to take a Tesla to a Gite in the middle of France (answer was yes wth proviso it involved several hours waiting in McD's or KFC'c next to charging stations of journey to/from Gite along with extra ~2 hours at charging station nearest to Shuttle to ensure could recharge and check in at right time + needed long extension lead to recharge overnight at Gite + they diplomatically paid extra for the electricity use as the Gite owner had no concept of what the cost of the added electricity usage was) where it commented that "AutoPilot" had a quirk on French Autoroutes where du to lane markings at junctions then without intervention the car wanted to steer itself off the autoroute at every exit!

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: self driving in Europe != success

      Ahh - that's because you guys drive on the wrong side of the road... guess the software needs a few lines more...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: self driving in Europe != success

        "Ahh - that's because you guys drive on the wrong side of the road... guess the software needs a few lines more..."

        Correct. All of continental Europe, like the USA, where the Tesla software was created, drives on the wrong side of the road.

        "AutoPilot" had a quirk on French Autoroutes where du to lane markings at junctions then without intervention the car wanted to steer itself off the autoroute at every exit!

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: self driving in Europe != success

          I'd like to point out that the Japanese, an engineering nation universally renowned for studying all the possibilities then picking the very best way of doing something, also drive on the left.

    3. Putters

      Re: self driving in Europe != success

      Actually this just sounds like some high up wonk from Philips bod out of Eindhoven going to their research place on the Science Park in Cambridge.who is very unused to driving on the left hand side of the road - being leery of the curb which feels far closer than normal, not being able to see past the car in front etc.

      Back in the days when I worked for Philips (in late 1980's when they had four sites - at least - in Cambridge), such wonks would have flown from Eindhoven to Cambridge direct rather than the ferry and the dreaded A14.

      *Wonk - although the OED has this as originating in the 1920s :

      https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/wonk ,

      I'm forever reminded of some childhood hand-me-down books that I'm happily still in possession of - sadly not in this condition though

      http://www.ladybird-books.com/books/muriel-levy/the-adventures-of-wonk-fireworks-709017/1310190

      1. M7S

        Re: self driving in Europe != success

        Actually it was a "test drive" event for members of the public on that Sunday and the Monday, this one run by the dealership from Brent Cross. Tesla are doing a few of them around the UK. There was an S and an X (LHD) there. The X certainly had a Dutch plate and the sales guy had just transferred from Switzerland.

        I had a go in the X. Impressed by some things. Surprised by one or two. Very disappointed by others. A fuller report available if El Reg would like....

    4. ckm5

      Re: self driving in Europe != success

      A few years ago I rented a car in France with lane departure correction (e.g. it steers to stay in white lines) and traffic sign recognition w/cruise control. While not in any way autonomous, it did just fine staying between the lines and at the speed limit on most roads while in cruise control mode.

      I suspect that, since Tesla's European assembly is in the Netherlands, what you saw was actually a test vehicle, not a normal driver.... Probably testing the car's ability to switch sides.

      Edit: or a customer test drive as stated above....

  8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Driver Assist or Autopilot?

    ISTR from previous articles and commentards that the Tesla Owners Manual refers to it as Advanced Driver Assist and never mentions "autopilot" or "self driving". Not helped by Tesla PR and Musk himself calling it Autopilot in press announcements and briefings.

    And I'm pretty sure that even in the USA, calling it autopilot with the strong implication of "self driving" is in breach of advertising rules anyway even without a new and specific ruling.

  9. jzl

    Aircraft

    Small planes often have an autopilot that does nothing more than hold course and altitude.

    Autopilot does not mean what some people appear to think it means.

    1. DropBear

      Re: Aircraft

      Without getting into the finer points of why even a realistic autopilot on a plane is a very different beast than Tesla's "autopilot", I'd just like to point out that the colloquial general meaning of "having / doing something on autopilot" is "not having to pay attention to it". That's why, regardless of what a NASA engineer might understand the term to mean, it should not be used for something that most decidedly does require your attention while you're using it.

      1. Vic

        Re: Aircraft

        I'd just like to point out that the colloquial general meaning of "having / doing something on autopilot" is "not having to pay attention to it"

        ITYF it generally means "not paying attention to it", whether or not such attention is actually required.

        That seems somewhat apposite in this situation...

        Vic.

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Aircraft

      For a light aircraft, altitude hold is not so common. The most basic autopilot is a "wing leveller" which does as the name suggests and prevents the aircraft banking so that the pilot can fly "hands off" for quite a long time without going off-course too much. The next stage is heading hold, where the autopilot will turn the aircraft to follow an adjustable "bug" on the aircraft's gyroscopic direction indicator. The next stage is an autopilot that can be coupled to a radio navigation instrument or GPS to follow an actual track. None of these require the autopilot to have control of throttle or elevator, only the aileron. Altitude hold in a light aircraft requires control of the elevator. On one occasion it had an unforeseen effect. I had not long levelled out at top-of-climb and engaged altitude hold when my passenger decided to open his window to take a photograph - something that was perfectly acceptable in a non-pressurised aircraft. The autopilot had its own barometer to sense altitude, which was open to cockpit pressure rather than being plumbed in to the aircraft's static vent. Opening the window caused a marked decrease in cockpit pressure, and we were suddenly weightless as the autopilot pushed the nose down into a screaming dive.

  10. David O'Rourke

    Autopilot

    Although I know exactly what a typical autopilot can and cannot do, I cannot hear the term without thinking of the cheerful inflatable chap from the Airplane movie.

    1. Trilkhai

      Re: Autopilot

      I wonder if any of the companies have used a replica of the Airplane! inflatable autopilot in the driver's seat during their on-site testing...if not, they should.

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Can it switch sides?

    Anyone know how or if Tesla drive assist can switch from left to right side driving, how it knows (GPS?) or if that's a manual setting somewhere? I'm thinking of people travelling by ferry/tunnel between Europe and UK, or, for that matter between any two countries where the driving side differs.

    1. jzl

      Re: Can it switch sides?

      It doesn't know and doesn't care. It just follows the lane that it's in when you activate it.

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