The sideshow around self-driving cars has become such that anyone make any claim, anyone else can refute that claim, none of it makes sense without context, and nothing changes. Once the sparring concludes, we, car buyers, remain responsible for piloting our cars. The most recent dust-up starts with Elon Musk — who else? — and his repeated assertion that Teslas built after October 2016 "have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability," as in Holy Grail, Level 5 autonomy. It ends with Scott Miller, General Motors' director of autonomous integration, summing up his thoughts on Musk's statement by telling visiting Australian media that Musk is "full of crap."

Now for the context. Musk believes fully autonomous driving can be achieved with cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors, yet without a laser-based lidar system. Miller — along with every other major car manufacturer we've spoken to — doesn't believe in full autonomy without using lidar. Among his wider comments, the GM exec maintained, "To be what an SAE Level 5 full autonomous system is, I don't think he has the content to do that," adding, "The level of technology and knowing what it takes to do the mission, to say you can be a full Level 5 with just cameras and radars, is not physically possible."

The Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 5 autonomy as "the full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver." That means autonomous driving on one of those backwoods North Carolina roads at night in the rain, when all contrast between the road and the markings disappear and you can't tell where the tarmac ends and the dirt begins. That means autonomous driving in the snow. That means autonomous driving down a two-way street with one usable lane, when the Level 5 car needs to negotiate with the driver of an oncoming car. And much more.

Will Teslas be able to do all of that with the currently installed hardware? It's probably going too far to call Musk "full of crap" for saying, "Yes, they can." All we can say truthfully right now is that we don't know, and in the realm of tall orders, this one looks about as high as the space station. Yet, speaking of the space station, was it an equally tall order to send a rocket to the ISS? To have a rocket land itself upright on an autonomous barge? Or how about creating the Apple of car companies with a battery-powered car? Just wondering.

Check out Miller's full comments at Australian site Car Advice. All claims and counterclaims will be answered on the road and nowhere else, so would someone — anyone — please get us an honest-to-God Level 5 autonomous car? Winter is coming, and some of us would rather deal with wights on dragons than three months of awful traffic and awful weather.

Related Video:

Help us improve our comments.
Share This Photo X