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Tesla Touts New Auto-Stop Tech

Teaching Autopilot to cope with intersections
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The latest wrinkle in Tesla’s controversial Autopilot self-driving feature: the ability to halt automatically for red lights and stop signs.

Tesla calls the new capability Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control. It has enlisted roughly 1,000 U.S. owners of the company’s Model 3 sedans and Model Y crossover variants to test a beta version of the feature.

Image: Electrek

CEO Elon Musk says Tesla plans to include auto-stop in its next general software update, which is due any day now. Overseas markets are to follow late this year.

The feature helps Autopilot, which was initially designed for use on the open road, to understand how intersections work. Think of it as another step toward helping Autopilot to live up to its name.

The auto-stop feature uses the vehicle’s forward-facing cameras and GPS data to look for traffic signs and signals. Over time, Tesla says, it will learn traffic etiquette at cross streets and begin to behave more “naturally.”

Learning Curve

For now, that isn’t the case. Tesla’s auto-stop does bring the car to a halt when it spies a stop sign. So far, so good. But when it comes to traffic signals, the beta version hits the brakes whether the light is red, green, flashing yellow or none of the above, Electrek reports.

You read that right. The system is ready to stop for every signal no matter what it indicates.

To keep pace with traffic, Tesla’s amateur test drivers must repeatedly defeat the system at green lights by either pressing down on the gearshift lever or tap the accelerator.

Tesla adds other caveats: Auto-stop ignores railroad crossings and toll booth gates, U-turn signals, special crosswalk systems and temporary signs and signals in construction zones.

Not Ready for Prime Time?

Critics fret that Autopilot has enough trouble behaving properly on well-marked highways. They worry that, until auto-stop sorts itself out, the technology may slow cars when it shouldn’t and fail to stop them when it should.

Can you hear the faint rustle of paper? That would be the sound of impending lawsuits from future fender-bender victims.

Autopilot mimics an autonomous vehicle by steering, braking and accelerating automatically—except when it can’t. It’s that last part that makes safety experts nervous.

As several widely publicized fatal crashes have shown, Autopilot can be spectacularly oblivious to unmistakable obstacles, such as a large truck crossing the road or parked on the shoulder.

Responsibilities

Tesla defends Autopilot by pointing to the owner’s manual language that warns drivers they must always pay attention and be ready to take control no matter what. But not everyone has gotten the message.

After investigating fatalities involving the system, the National Transportation Safety Board finds plenty of blame to go around. The agency says some drivers clearly expect too much from Autopilot, and it scolds the company for failing to set the record straight.

Tesla has a long history of introducing advanced technologies such as Autopilot into the marketplace. But it tends to sidestep the tedious vetting process typical among long-time carmakers. The company’s auto-stop feature is the latest example.

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