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Tesla’s Autonomous Driving Plans Get a Reality Check from One of Its Co-Founders

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Martin Eberhard, one of the co-founders of Tesla, has expressed his lack of enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles. In an interview, Eberhard stated that self-driving cars were not part of Tesla’s mission when he co-founded the company in 2003, adding that he is not a big fan of autonomous driving. In his opinion, the development of autonomous driving systems requires a much bigger budget than the one they had at the time. Eberhard also noted that while he appreciates safety-oriented systems like driver-assist features, he doesn’t approve of autonomous driving, identifying it as one of his biggest concerns for Tesla under Elon Musk’s leadership. Although Musk has made autonomous driving a top priority at Tesla, Eberhard disagrees, stating that it’s a “mistake to think of a car as a software platform.”

Eberhard left Tesla in 2007, and at that time, the company had yet to release its first car. At that time, the carmaker was still working on the Tesla Roadster, a small sports car based on the Lotus Elise. According to Eberhard, when he was still working at Tesla, making software for electric cars to drive themselves was the least of their concerns. The primary focus at the time was to make the car work, and they never thought about autonomous driving. Elon Musk became heavily involved in Tesla’s design, leading much of the long-term strategic vision, and eventually became the CEO in 2008.

Musk has been promising for years that Tesla will put fully autonomous cars on the road. However, Eberhard disagrees with Musk’s approach, stating that he thinks it’s a mistake to think of a car as a software platform. Eberhard notes that his concerns stem from the fact that he has an iPhone, and every time he receives a software update, there are bugs in the system. These bugs are often an annoyance, but when they show up in the software that controls a vehicle’s brakes or steering, they can be dangerous.

Currently, all Tesla models come with the company’s Autopilot driver-assist program, and Tesla owners can also purchase the Full Self-Driving beta feature for $15,000 or via a $199 monthly subscription. The Full Self-Driving beta feature allows the vehicle to automatically change lanes, enter and exit highways, recognize stop signs and traffic lights, and park. However, both programs still require a licensed driver to monitor the system at all times, and Tesla’s AI system collects driver data to improve the system as drivers use it.

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Although Eberhard and Musk have disagreed in the past, Eberhard still acknowledges Musk’s significant contributions to Tesla. Musk retroactively became a Tesla co-founder in a 2009 lawsuit settlement, and he changed his job title to Technoking in 2021, although he still retains his CEO position.

Eberhard’s opinions on autonomous driving suggest that the technology is not for everyone. He noted that he appreciates safety-oriented systems like driver-assist features but thinks that making a car a software platform is a mistake. Nevertheless, Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist program and Full Self-Driving beta feature are popular among Tesla owners, and the company continues to work on autonomous driving technology.

Rahul Somvanshi

Rahul is a filmmaker and photographer, with a passion for environmentally helpful technology, design, and science. Always mindful of climate change's impact, he writes to highlight the latest updates on potential solutions that can benefit the planet.

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