Mad Max style scenery

Tesla to offer ‘aggressive’ and ‘Mad Max’ Autopilot modes, Elon Musk says

Image credit: Dreamstime

According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the company's cars will come with different modes that allow them to be more 'aggressive' on the roads, an unusual trait for an autonomous vehicle system.

While Tesla’s electric cars are not fully autonomous, they come with 'Autopilot' (now 'Enhanced Autopilot') mode, a system that can assist the driver with parking, lane changing, lane centring, adaptive cruise-control and some other tasks. This system could, Tesla says, help prevent dangerous accidents caused by tiredness or lack of attention at the wheel.

Autopilot is a predecessor to a fully autonomous system, which could be offered to Tesla owners once it meets regulatory approval.

One of the biggest issues people have with autonomous vehicles is safety and decision making. In order to be as safe as possible, autonomous vehicles tend to make decisions once they have acquired enough information to be certain that their actions will be safe. For instance, most lane-changing algorithms require cars to act conservatively, often neglecting to change lane at all unless there is a huge amount of room in which to carry out the manoeuvre.

While this is likely to reassure those concerned about the safety of fully autonomous vehicles, this could prove inconvenient in practice as vehicles.

In order to try to encourage autonomous vehicles to act more like a real human driver, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently developed a new lane-changing algorithm which limits the amount of information that had to be processed by adjusting buffer zones around the vehicle. This allows the vehicle to drive in more or less conservative modes, effectively behaving more like a real human driver.

Now, Musk has said that Tesla is experimenting with different modes that allow its cars to behave more assertively when changing lanes.

Following a Twitter user posting a picture of a Tesla Semi amid a backdrop from Mad Max (the film franchise following Max Rockatansky and his violent adventures on the road of a dystopian world), Musk revealed that Tesla was indeed experimenting with three different modes for lane changing: standard, aggressive and 'Mad Max'

Musk – an enthusiastic Twitter user – then joked that a setting even more aggressive than 'Mad Max'mode could be named 'A Freeway',although that could be going too far.

“Reality is that it will be pretty easy to bully a self-driving car, as it will always yield. Will [probably] have a manual override that requires continuous press for hardcore lane changes,” Musk added on Twitter.

At present, while Tesla Autopilot can assist drivers with lane changes, the driver is required to confirm that the coast is clear before the manoeuvre can be completed. It is not known when the new lane-changing modes will become available for Tesla drivers to test out for themselves.

“We may be able to look forward to a future in which a proportion of autonomously driven vehicles could be a calming influence on some manual driving behaviour,” said Dr Tony Pipe, deputy director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. “However, clearly the “transition phase” where autonomous and manually driven vehicles share use of the road could last for a long time, or even forever, and so aggressive driving for some manually driven vehicles is something we will have to bear in mind if this technology takes off.”

“It must be said that right now vehicles driven by people in all states of mind […] share the roadways adequately,” he added.

Tesla Autopilot has attracted some controversy in recent months, in the wake of a series of collisions caused by drivers inappropriately relying on their cars’ assistance systems. In May 2018, two consumer groups wrote to the Federal Trade Commission, urging it to investigate Tesla and arguing that: “The marketing and advertising practices of Tesla, combined with Elon Musk’s public statements, have made it reasonable for Tesla owners to believe, and act on that belief, that a Tesla with Autopilot is an autonomous vehicle capable of 'self-driving'.”

Infographic on Tesla production targets

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Image credit: Graphic News

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