Researcher Says Tesla’s Autopilot Might Endanger Cyclists


Heather Knight, a robotics expert at Stanford University, has published a paper reviewing the Autopilot feature that exists in some of Tesla’s cars. The paper is titled: “Tesla Autopilot Review: Bikers Will Die”, and while the title may be sensationalist, it nonetheless raises some important considerations in terms of how the Autopilot system interacts with cyclists.

For the most part, Knight gave Tesla’s Autopilot system a glowing review, but she pointed out that how the system interacted with cyclists was occasionally alarming, saying the Autopilot has an “agnostic” behavior around cyclists. Essentially, the autopilot reads bicycles as small vehicles and thus does not take into account how unprotected a cyclist is and they would be injured if hit by the car.

“I’d estimate that Autopilot classified ~30 percent of other cars, and 1 percent of bicyclists,” Knight said.

Knight gave the autopilot’s situational awareness an A grade, but stressed one very important consideration:

“Not being able to classify objects doesn’t mean the Tesla doesn’t see that something is there, but given the lives at stake, we recommend that people NEVER USE TESLA AUTOPILOT AROUND BICYCLISTS!”

This isn’t the first time Tesla’s Autopilot system has been criticized, just like other driver assistance features on other vehicles. Criticisms were levied at the fact that it takes a large amount of training to understand and use the system, that it functions poorly in some adverse weather conditions, and that it sometimes has problems maneuvering around hazards.

In light of these considerations, it is smart to remember what Tesla has stressed about the “autopilot” feature, it assists a driver only, and the vehicle is not autonomous. Drivers of cars with autopilot systems should still pay close attention to the road, as these systems (Tesla’s Autopilot and other like it) are still many years away from being able to navigate a road by themselves.