Your Regular Reminder That Fully Self-Driving Cars Don't Exist Yet

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
your regular reminder that fully self driving cars don t exist yet

While we’re on the subject of Super Bowl commercials, there wasn’t just one, but two, that irritated me on Sunday.

This one has little, if anything, to do with politics, so you can relax and cancel out that angry email you were about to send me.

Nope, this one has to do with the misinformation circulating about autonomous cars.

Nick Jonas, of Jonas Brothers fame, was the spokesman for a spot for Dexcom, a medical-device maker. And in the spot, he said “we’ve got self-driving cars” as he talked about modern technology. The camera cuts to a man riding in a self-driving car, looking relaxed, hands off the wheel.

Nick, I realize you may have been reading from a script and didn’t know this, but we don’t have self-driving cars. At least not yet.

You cannot, as of right now, buy a fully self-driving car from ANY make. No matter what Tesla CEO Elon Musk says about Tesla’s AutoPilot and Full-Self Driving systems. There are test units out there, but nothing that you can buy.

There are, of course, cars that offer some partial self-driving. Like the aforementioned Tesla systems and GM’s SuperCruise. There are plenty of other driver-assist systems that have limited autonomy – systems that might steer you back into your lane if your hands aren’t on the wheel, for example.

But every system on the market today, including AutoPilot and SuperCruise, requires the driver to be ready to take over a moment’s notice and still be focused on the road.

There are five levels of autonomy, with level 5 being full self-driving. Our “best” systems available today are level 2. That includes SuperCruise – which can only be used on certain roads – and AutoPilot. Tesla’s FSD system is in beta testing and there’s some uncertainty over whether it’s level 2 or 3. Musk claims it will be level 5 by the end of this year. We’re skeptical.

You might think a throwaway line in an ad that isn’t about cars doesn’t matter when it comes to discussing autonomous technology. Clearly, the producers of the spot don’t think it does. That is, if they even knew we don’t actually have self-driving cars.

That is exactly the problem. Non-car people mistakenly believe that some cars can drive themselves, and that’s dangerous. All it takes is one Tesla driver who doesn’t understand his car’s tech and you can have a nasty, potentially fatal, vehicle accident.

Musk has been called out for over-selling his cars’ abilities, but it’s not just one pitchman’s fault. Nuance has been lost in the discussion. I bet the average man on the street doesn’t even know there are levels of autonomy.

So when an incredibly famous pop star says off-hand that we have self-driving cars in an ad seen by millions and millions of people during the biggest sporting event of the year, that falsehood can spread unchecked. Not to mention that the ad will be in rotation for a while, further spreading an untruth.

That makes it easy to envision a scenario in which an unscrupulous car salesman oversells the self-driving capabilities of, oh say, Nissan ProPilot, and some poor Rogue driver finds out the hard way that her car can’t drive itself.

Getting this terminology correct matters. When Liberty Mutual couldn’t talk accurately about torque in an ad a few years ago it was harmless. Laughable. “Oh, those idiots couldn’t take two seconds to Google what torque is, haha”.

But when it comes to consumer confusion about an emerging technology – confusion that could lead to safety issues – those with a platform have a responsibility to get it right.

Next time, Dexcom, pick another piece of amazing tech to make your point. May I suggest those self-cleaning cat-litter boxes?

As for everyone else, there are no full self-driving cars for sale today. Not from Tesla, Cadillac, or anyone else. And there won’t be for a while.

Stop saying there are.

[Image: Screenshot via YouTube]

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  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?