Elon Musk addresses concerns around Autopilot and its ‘beta’ label

Elon Musk’s Tesla’s ‘Master Plan, Part Deux’ contains his strongest response yet to concerns around Autopilot, the subject of an ongoing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation. Unsurprisingly, Musk is standing by the merits Autopilot and its impact on driver safety.

“According to the recently released 2015 NHTSA report, automotive fatalities increased by 8 percent to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day,” the Tesla CEO wrote in a section of his Part 2 plan labeled ‘Autonomy’. “It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named.”

He then proceeded to explain why the term “beta” being attached to Autopilot is little more than a formality based on internal naming standards at this point.

“It is also important to explain why we refer to Autopilot as ‘beta,'” Musk continued. “This is not beta software in any normal sense of the word. Every release goes through extensive internal validation before it reaches any customers. It is called beta in order to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve (Autopilot is always off by default). Once we get to the point where Autopilot is approximately 10 times safer than the US vehicle average, the beta label will be removed.”

Autopilot has been under intense scrutiny since a fatal Model S crash involving the feature occurred this past May. That led the NHTSA to launch an investigation into Autopilot late last month. Consumer Reports followed last week by calling on Tesla to disable Autopilot until it can be proved much safer, but NHTSA head Mark Rosekind also said at a San Francisco conference this week that “no one incident” will stop the organization from promoting the development of highly  automated driving.

From what Musk laid out Wednesday night, Tesla has no plans to discontinue its efforts towards developing automated driving systems, either. In fact, Musk described a desired future state in which self-driving Tesla’s form a shared fleet of vehicles available to people needing a ride on demand.