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Tesla reiterates that ‘Autopilot’ doesn’t mean ‘autonomous’ as the DMV moves to ban the use of the word

A member of the media test drives a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S car equipped with Autopilot in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Tesla Motors Inc. will begin rolling out the first version of its highly anticipated "autopilot" features to owners of its all-electric Model S sedan Thursday. Autopilot is a step toward the vision of autonomous or self-driving cars, and includes features like automatic lane changing and the ability of the Model S to parallel park for you. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The controversy over how to approach Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) continues as the California DMV is moving forward with a new regulation to ban the use of certain words in the promotion and advertising of the systems.

One of the words is ‘Autopilot’, which is exactly what Tesla has been calling its own ADAS since its announcement in October 2014.

Last week, the DMV published a draft of the new regulation, which is not official yet, but could quickly become a problem for Tesla and other automakers.

The summary of the rule states:

“Prohibits the advertisement of lower levels of automated systems, where the human driver is still responsible for monitoring or control of the vehicle, as “autonomous”, “self-driving” or other similar terms.”
Now whether ‘Autopilot’ is a “similar term” to “autonomous” or “self-driving” is up to debate, but in the rule itself, the DMV seems to think so:
“(b) Terms such as “self-driving”, “automated”, “auto-pilot”, or other statements made that are likely to induce a reasonably prudent person to believe a vehicle is autonomous, as defined, constitute an advertisement that the vehicle is autonomous for the purposes of this section and Vehicle Code section 11713.”
Tesla is still reviewing the draft, which has been submitted last week, and it plans to “provide inputs to the DMV”.The automaker also reiterates that the ‘Autopilot’ is named after the system used in aircraft and it doesn’t make them autonomous. A Tesla spokesperson sent us the following statement:
Tesla is reviewing the draft regulations and will provide input to the DMV as appropriate. Autopilot makes driving safer and less stressful, and we have always been clear that it does not make a car autonomous any more than its namesake makes an aircraft autonomous.
The automaker does have a point. Tesla actually uses a lot of the same language as the FAA to talk about the systems. They both describe a system that relieves the operator of certain controls, which reduces the overall workload and allow to be more vigilant about other things. From the FAA’s autopilot regulations:
“While the autopilot relieves you from manually manipulating the flight controls, you must maintain vigilance over the system to ensure that it performs the intended functions and the aircraft remains within acceptable parameters of altitudes, airspeeds, and airspace limits.”
They both say that it is the responsibility of the pilot or driver to monitor the system and make sure it performs correctly. But the actual definition of the word and how it is commonly used can be two different things. The perception that some people have of the word ‘autopilot’ might be enough for the DMV to go ahead and ban it for being used in the description of ADAS.
We will be following the impact of the new potential regulation on Tesla’s Autopilot program, but it will also clarify the rules around the use of the words ‘self-driving cars’, which has been a problem lately with automakers like Mercedes. As you can see in the image above, they were still advertising their ADAS system as ‘a self-driving car’ just last week.

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