The producers also feature test drives that demonstrate blind spots in the Autopilot function, including difficulties identifying stationary objects that add to the risk factor.
Even with the necessary disclaimers, el termino “self-driving” evokes certain expectations about the extent to which a person behind the wheel needs to be engaged in its operation, which has muddied the coverage. Musk’s high profile and swashbuckling entrepreneurial image have also fed into the romance surrounding the company, with Times reporter Neal Boudette saying, “Tesla fans hear what they want to hear.”
Tesla has said that it’s still the driver’s responsibility to pay heed to what the car is doing even while in Autopilot, and that the driver should be ready to take charge in case of problems with the software.
But critics suggest that Musk’s pronouncements have fueled perceptions that go beyond what Autopilot can currently accomplish, such as an interview in which he’s shown saying that self-driving technology will soon offer “complete autonomy. Safer than a human.”
“There are too many people who construe the term Autopilot to mean ‘Human engagement no longer necessary,'” says former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Christopher Hart.
With Musk very much in the news, “Crash Course” offers a window into this inordinately outspoken and controversial billionaire and the corporate culture that he fosters. Yet more urgently, it raises questions about the safety of Tesla owners when they employ Autopilot now, not where they’ll be two years from now.
“The New York Times Presents Elon Musk’s Crash Course” premieres May 20 a 10 pm. ET on FX and Hulu.