The “Autopilot Buddy” has come under increased scrutiny by safety experts in light of several crashes involving Tesla’s semi-autonomous cars. Three of these incidents resulted in deaths. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is voicing its disapproval through formal action. The agency has issued a cease and desist letter to the company that produces Autopilot Buddy due to mounting concerns about the dangers that this technology poses to drivers and passengers.
What is “Autopilot Buddy?”
Autopilot Buddy is marketed as a “nag reduction device” in semi-autonomous cars manufactured by Tesla. It is small device that attaches to the vehicle’s steering wheel with magnets. It produces small amounts of torque to the steering wheel, which has the effect of reducing the warnings that indicate that the driver’s hands are not on the wheel. By overriding the internal warning system, the car is tricked into thinking that the driver has control of the vehicle. The car’s display will issue warnings and then disable itself after several warnings.
The NHTSA’s Order
The Autopilot Buddy increases the risk that a driver will not respond to warnings indicating that Autopilot should be disabled. Because of the significant dangers posed by this system, the NHTSA issued a letter requiring the Autopilot Buddy manufacturer to verify that marketing, sales and distribution of the product in the United Sates has ceased. The NHTSA criticized the product for promoting irresponsible driving by disabling the car’s internal system from alerting the driver to put his hands on the wheel. The agency has not commented about whether it would take action with respect to devices that have already been sold to Tesla owners.
Autopilot Buddy Manufacturer Responds to Order
The manufacturer of the device has responded that the device is not designed to encourage the driver to remains hands-free even when such action could pose a danger to his safety. Instead, it claims that Autopilot Buddy is intended for track use only. Although the manufacturer also stated that it is not currently taking orders in the United States, links to purchase the product remain on the company’s webpage.
A Tesla spokesperson stated that the company supports the NHTSA’s cease and desist order.
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