Tesla’s Autopilot is not magic, it’s just code

Tesla recently rolled out an expensive over the air firmware update for their electric cars. Among the changes in the 7.0 release is a catchy-named feature called “Autopilot,” which enables the vehicle to achieve a fair degree of driver autonomy: On a well-marked highway, the car can keep itself in its lane, change lanes when it needs to, avoid other vehicles, speed up, slow down and even come to a complete stop.

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But it is most certainly not a true autopilot. And in introducing the new feature, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, made it clear that it’s a feature that’s still very much in development. He called it a “public beta.”

I can’t remember the last time an auto executive would have admitted that a new feature in a flagship automobile wasn’t ready for prime time, but there it is.

Still, there have been a few reports of Tesla drivers completely yielding control to Autopilot, with predictably dire results.

I’m not sure what’s more foolish: Naming the feature “Autopilot” to begin with, or being gullible enough to assume that you no longer have to drive your own car simply because some new software has been downloaded.

Years ago, I worked for a Mac software developer in tech support. I was asked to garner a list of customer requests for the next major version of an app we were working on, and presented it at the meeting.

As the list of demands and requests grew ever more esoteric, the exasperated project manager finally blurted, “You know, these people have to understand: There’s a difference between AM and FM. AM being actual machine code and FM being f*ing magic.”