Because Elon Musk did another announcement.
Rachel Maddow covered self-driving cars. Let's see how that went.
She talks about parking assist, the first models to have those over a decade ago. (Wikipedia mostly agrees.)
She starts by talking about the history of cruise control, giving pictures of an old AMC car one of the first "big American cars with" cruise control: 1965. She mentions adaptive cruise control, mentioning sensing cars ahead of you in the lane (that in the lane is Very Important, and when she says just pulled in front of you in the lane, she imputes better behavior to adaptive cruise control than I have experienced. If they just pulled in front of you, adaptive cruise control may not immediately notice it so you'd better be ready).
She mentions vibrating warnings that you are not staying in the lane. She talks about lane change/blind spot assist. She talks about forward and rear sensors to brake the car if getting too close to something else.
Then she talks about the Tesla AutoPilot on highways announcement.
The demo shown is clear: weather is good, there's no crap on the road, the lane markings are clear. This is all important. AutoPilot won't work if there isn't stuff to "see", either because weather snow, ice, crap) has compromised the sensors or because the road doesn't have the markings (faded or nonexistent lane markings, or lane markings covered up by leaves, snow, etc.). That's really exciting stuff (the video is over at The Verge).
But then she does this. Self-driving cars seemed so science fictional! "It is here. It's done. It's ready to go." Then she expresses surprise that Teslas are gonna get an over the air update that will give them AutoPilot (of course, people who have been buying Teslas for months now have been pissed that the feature was software disabled, so _they_ aren't surprised). She then goes down a legal tangent about cars having to have drivers (AutoPilot does not negate the need for a driver, so I don't see them immediately getting tangled up with the law. ETA: Slate on the legality issue for AutoPilot: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/03/21/elon_musk_announces_tesla_plan_for_autonomous_cars_in_months_but_are_they.html
). Then there's a drone comparison. (This is a bad comparison.)
It gets really weird next. This is a HIGHWAY feature. Even Musk isn't crazy enough to deploy on roads with less maintained lane markings and similar support features. "But you know presumably the leap from your car being able to safely AutoPilot itself on the highway to your car being able to safely AutoPilot your kids to school and back, presumably that is just an incremental technological matter of upgrades."
Sure. It _is_ just an incremental technological matter of upgrades. Just like the iPhone in your pocket is just an incremental technological matter of upgrades from Babbage's Difference Engine, all munged up with something made by Marconi. "just an incremental technological matter of upgrades".
I paused, but this is the next sentence: "Upgrades that will unfold pretty fast once people are regularly knitting and doing their filing in the driver's seat while their car drives them to work. This is about to happen."
Discussion of, will it be normal or not, will it be required, will robot driving be safer, will people hate it and it will die.
And then a segue to media coverage of politics, retail meet-and-greet politics vs. delivery of info about candidates through broadcast, etc. Basically, Meerkat Will Change Politics. Which it very well may.
FWIW, she seemed to think that 1965 was quite a long time ago, so incremental upgrades in that time frame would not fit her idea of "it's right here".
ETA: The Slate article seems a little confused.
"if the software lets the Model S operate like a Level 3 car, letting the human “cede control of all safety-critical functions” to a machine that can, say, change lanes on its own, then it’s illegal. Cars with such capabilities, like the Audi A7 I piloted from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas, must be certified as test vehicles before they hit the pavement. You can’t sell them to the public."
Here's the definition of Level 3:http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/U.S.+Department+of+Transportation+Releases+Policy+on+Automated+Vehicle+Development
"Limited Self-Driving Automation (Level 3): Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation."
There is no reason to believe AutoPilot will meet these criteria. Particularly not when every description and demo says that the driver is there with their hands ready to take control back at all times.
A _lot_ of online commenters have trouble grasping Level 3. They particularly fail to notice the "with sufficiently comfortable transition time". The Tesla Model is is no Google car.
[ETA: This is the doc referenced below: DOT HS 812 044 Human Factors Evaluation of Level 2 And Level 3 Automated Driving Concepts the pdf is named 812044_HF-Evaluation-Levels-2-3-Automated-Driving-Concepts-f-Operation.pdf hopefully that will enable you to find it I'm having trouble with the URL.]
Elsewhere, NHTSA says an example of comfortable transition time is the car telling you about an upcoming construction zone.
Oooh, this would be cool!
"Automated Valet Parking
Audi20 has developed a prototype system that enables the driver to depart the vehicle at a parking garage entrance and to instruct the vehicle to “go park” via a smartphone interface. The vehicle then proceeds, empty, into the garage, travels until it detects an empty space, and parks. Upon being summoned by the owner via smartphone, the vehicle proceeds to the garage exit area where the driver re-enters the vehicle and resumes driving. Nissan21 has demonstrated a similar system."
NHTSA and I seem to agree that that project is the only Level 4 thing likely to wind up on the market in less than 5 years. I WANT IT!
Another illuminating paragraph about the difference between L2 and L3:
"In L2 vehicle systems, the operator subsystem, by definition, is expected to monitor the roadway and safe operation of the vehicle while remaining available to take full control at any time. Therefore, when the operator subsystem, potentially having full knowledge of this responsibility, chooses to engage in a secondary task that may disrupt or eliminate operator capability to effectively monitor the roadway and safe operation of the vehicle, this can qualify as or lead to misuse. Conversely, in an L3 system in which, by definition, the operator subsystem has sufficient time to transition from a separate task back to the driving task, the purposeful engagement of an alternative task is not necessarily misuse. However, in an L3 system, misuse could occur when the operator subsystem attempts to ignore warnings/alerts fully comprehended (including potential consequences for ignoring system communication) by the operator for reasons known to the operator."
As long as Tesla is clear that their systems require constant driver attention/readiness, they are not selling an L3 vehicle, and their car should be legal.
This whole document (which I haven't linked to yet) is reminding me of the RV joke where the man goes in the back, and then his wife joins him, no one is driving the RV any more because she misunderstood cruise control as an aviation like autopilot.
"Essentially, the operator may incorrectly assume the vehicle is still maintaining heading when, in fact, neither subsystem is actively steering the vehicle."
Chapter 8 has a great table showing where industry development is focused (so everyone in the Northeast who is hoping for cars that drive themselves? Fuhgeddaboudit. No one is interested in automating any element of car operation when the roadway is at all icy and/or it is snowing. Just no.).