After a very long wait for long-promised autopilot features, Model S owners in Hong Kong were surely unhappy to discover yesterday that those same features have now been remotely disabled.
According to the International Business Times, Hong Kong officials told Tesla to remove the semiautonomous driving technology until authorities can confirm the features are safe.
Tesla’s autopilot features enable the Model S to control a driver’s direction for miles on end, with no hand contact on the steering wheel. They also executes lane changes on command and enable automatic parallel parking when conditions permit.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some abuse of the features have followed. For example, one driver thought it would be a good idea to shave in the front seat. Another climbed into the back seat of a Model S to test the reliability of the software.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk addressed the unsettling trend earlier this month on an earnings call, suggesting that Tesla itself plans to add more limiting features to the technology.
“There’s been some fairly crazy videos on YouTube,” said Musk. “[…] this is not good. And we will be putting some additional constraints on when Autopilot can be activated to minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it.”
In Hong Kong, at least, Tesla doesn’t appear to have a choice. As the company wrote to its car customers yesterday: “The Autosteer and Auto Lane Change functions in our recent 7.0 software update are still pending approval from Hong Kong’s Transport Department. To ensure we comply with the country’s regulators, we will be temporarily turning off these two functions on all Model S in Hong Kong effective immediately.”
The IBT story cites a Tesla Motor Club forum member who says a similar situation is taking place in Japan, but Tesla isn’t commenting on other challenges to its technology elsewhere in the world.
Either way, it’s an eye-opening development and surely one that the auto industry will be following closely, given that other carmakers offer similar features, including Mercedes Benz, whose S-Class offers what it calls Intelligent Drive.