The numerous automakers competing to get self-driving cars on the road want to achieve the same thing: Acquire the best possible database of autonomous behavior to ensure their cars are safer than the competition’s. That’s one reason why the industry is wary of a push by U.S. regulators to get them to share more data: The proposal essentially asks them to surrender their competitive advantage.
By encouraging drivers to give up more control to their vehicle, Tesla’s Autopilot mode may have given it an edge in data-collection over the more passive lane-assist and sensing systems employed by the likes of Volvo, BMW, GM and Toyota. But the costs of that high-stakes strategy have been outweighing the benefits: Aside from the rising toll of accidents, Mobileye blamed Musk’s over-enthusiasm about the technology for ending their relationship, and Germany last week asked Tesla to drop the term Autopilot in case it was leading drivers to reduce their attention.
Giving up on autonomous mode in new cars will reduce Tesla’s ability to overcome its numerical disadvantage in data collection against the major volume automakers. But it will ensure the entire industry is able to develop more prudently, and give regulators faith that engineers aren’t putting inter-company competition ahead of road safety. That can only be a good thing.