California regulators have proposed banning the word “autopilot” from electric-car pioneer Tesla’s advertising, teeing up an extraordinary conflict between state officials and the Silicon Valley powerhouse in an era of increasingly automated cars.
The move, in draft state regulations on autonomous cars released late Friday, marks an affront to Tesla’s ambitions and self-image. And it represents a muscular exertion of state power as state and federal officials are working through how they should govern vehicles that soon may require no human driver at all. Some of the state proposals are in line with the wishes of manufacturers; others, far from it.
“Autopilot” is the name for a set of semiautonomous Tesla features that fall far short of the driverless future that tech titans and U.S. officials have embraced as a business and safety opportunity. The company, led by Elon Musk, has argued that the sensors and software that enable those capabilities are part of a fast-evolving system that, working with today’s drivers, has already crossed the “ ‘better-than-human’ threshold.”
But the California Department of Motor Vehicles cited concerns about “the risk of driver complacency and misuse of lower level systems where drivers are expected to remain fully engaged in the driving task.” It said drivers must be aware of the limitations. More info
Photo: A driver rides hands-free in a Tesla Model S equipped with Autopilot hardware and software in New York on Sept. 19. California says a true autonomous vehicle is one that is “equipped with technology that has the capability of operating or driving the vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person.” (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg News)