In an interview this week, Trent Victor, Volvo’s senior technical leader for crash avoidance, took the time to call out Tesla Autopilot by name. "It gives you the impression that it's doing more than it is," said Victor in an interview with The Verge, before going on to say that Tesla Autopilot “is more of an unsupervised wannabe."
Tesla defines its Autopilot as a Level 2 autonomous system, which the NHTSA describes thusly:
This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions. An example of combined functions enabling a Level 2 system is adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centering.
Volvo, on the other hand, considers Tesla Autopilot to be a Level 3 autonomous system, in which “automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions” and “thendriver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time.”
The NHTSA considers Google’s fleet of self-driving cars to be Level 3, but Tesla’s Autopilot — in its current form — is not nearly as capable (especially at low speeds). But that didn’t stop Victor for labeling Tesla Autopilot and Level 3 autonomy in general as unsafe. He contends that the driver must be able to take over control of the vehicle at a moment’s notice should the vehicle’s computer find itself in a situation that it can’t handle. If the driver is distracted or otherwise preoccupied with another task -- since the vehicle’s computer has been driving up until this point -- the driver might not have enough time to focus and safely take command of the vehicle.
Of course, Victor is using this line of reasoning because he is pushing Volvo’s upcoming Level 4 autonomous technology which will enter public trials in 2017. Level 4 autonomy allow the driver to absolve himself (or herself) completely from all driving duties at all times. “It's important for us as a company, our position on autonomous driving, is to keep it quite different so you know when you're in semi-autonomous and know when you're in unsupervised autonomous,” Victor added.
"In our concept, if you don't take over, if you have fallen asleep or are watching a film, then we will take responsibility still. We won't just turn [autonomous mode] off.”
Level 4 autonomy is definitely the “Holy Grail” when it comes to self-driving vehicles, and Volvo feels that it will be in a prime position to be an industry leader.
We reported yesterday that Volvo has teamed up with Ford, Google, Uber and Lyft to help advance the adoption of self-driving vehicles on American roads. Notably absent from that elite group of companies was Tesla.