Elon Musk: Let's Use The Term "Autopilot"

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
elon musk let s use the term autopilot

“Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”

According to Elon Musk, what we have here is… failure to market effectively.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, the man whose divorce rated a story on Jalopnik offered his opinions on the future of self-driving cars. The most notable talking points? First, Musk likes the idea of camera-based systems more than he likes a Google-style LIDAR scanning system. In a world where camera lenses never get dirty, this should work perfectly. In the real world, one suspects that the owner of said car will have to intervene fairly often. Better not turn away from the road while you’re reading the tenth book in the “50 Shades” series, ladies.

But that’s okay, because Musk doesn’t like the idea of a “self-driving” car. Better to call it “autopilot”, as noted in the above quote. Here, he has a genuine point. The early self-driving cars will almost certainly be incapable of operating effectively in mixed conditions without frequent and occasionally immediate assistance from the tool behind the wheel. If you look at these systems as “autopilots” — that is, something you use like cruise control in limited situations while remaining at least partially aware of what’s happening — rather than “self-driving” — which implies you can take a nap on the way to work — it makes more sense.

The problem comes when autopilot-level cars have to co-exist with an ever more ridiculous set of rules on distracted driving. What will the owner of the “autopiloted” car be permitted to do? Will he be forced by law to look forward and simply watch the wheels go round and round, just in case something happens that the car can’t handle? Can you imagine being forced to watch a car drive itself from Indianapolis to St. Louis? We’ll need the Clockwork Orange eyelid-grabbers for that, methinks. Or maybe you should just stop thinking about it and participate in mass transit. The government would prefer that, and if there’s no mass transit where you live, that’s a clue that you should leave, right?

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5 of 25 comments
  • R H R H on May 10, 2013

    I can't wait to see TTAC messageboards 20 (more? years) from now about the difference between a "manual" and an "auto" Manual = manual control over car functions auto = autopilot....

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 13, 2013

    I'm a Musk fan, but this is crazy talk. Americans hate mass transit, love independence, and will not tolerate autopilots in cars.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.
  • Wjtinfwb I've seen worse on the highways around Atlanta, usually with a refrigerator or washer wedged into the trunk and secured with recycled twine...
  • Wjtinfwb Surprising EB Flex hasn't weighed in yet on it being the subject of a recall...