Tesla's Autopilot: Profits Vs. Purpose

July 8, 2016 | BIT Magazine Tesla Motors, the innovative US-based electric car company says specifically on its own website regarding its Autopilot feature that:
Tesla requires drivers to remain engaged and aware when Autosteer is enabled. Drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel.
In the tragic accident that claimed the life of Joshua Brown on May 7, 2016 in which his Tesla Motors Model S collided with a truck as it turned in front of him, had Mr. Brown been engaged and aware but still unfortunately did not see the truck, whether or not the Autopilot feature was engaged would have made very little difference.


Both he and the Autopilot failed to see the truck's white trailer against a bright background, but ultimately it was up to Mr. Brown to see it and react.

The Autopilot is not supposed to drive the car for a Tesla owner. It is explicitly designed and advertised as a means of making driving easier and safer. It is a secondary line of defense against potential accidents, with the first line of defense still being the driver's own attention and ability to react.

Tesla's Autopilot is not unlike a commercial airliner's autopilot. By no means do commercial airliners "fly themselves." Neither do Tesla cars "drive themselves." Like an airliner, it is still the driver's responsibility to ensure the vehicle makes it to its destination safely.

It really is that simple.

The media's reaction has spanned the entire spectrum from the completely irrational and uninformed, like this Fortune article, toward the more insightful and understanding like this piece from Vanity Fair.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that Tesla never advertised its Autopilot feature as "self-driving." Technology that works exactly as advertised, a beta autopilot for cars that still requires a driver to be engaged and aware, does not constitute a "setback" for Tesla. It is clearly a challenge to improve the technology, but not a call for stagnation, and certainly not a call for retreat.

It should be mentioned that articles like the above mentioned Fortune piece, are focused primarily on short-term profits and market volatility rather than the long-term financial fundamentals of Tesla or the actual purpose the company represents.

Profits Vs. Purpose 

Tesla's Autopilot, not to mention many other aspects of its business, are often criticized specifically because they do not generate immediate and substantial benefits for investors. For the Autopilot feature, some seem to even suggest it is an unnecessary risk.

Undoubtedly, a future where humanity has shifted toward renewable energy and personal transportation powered by it, along with cars capable of significantly reducing fatalities owed to human error, will be both profitable and profoundly better for all of our collective best interests. Getting there, however, in a system predicated on a shortsighted, almost tropism-like pursuit of profits, will not be easy.


Tesla Motors faces constant pressure to abandon long-term purpose in favor of short-term profits. But doing so would mean abandoning the innovative risks Tesla has taken in order to enter an otherwise stagnant and saturated auto industry in the first place. It should be mentioned that the auto industry is stagnant and saturated precisely because of society's proclivity toward short-term profits at the expense of fulfilling any sort of meaningful long-term purpose.

And while moving forward toward a better future like those envisioned by Elon Musk and others like him will not be easy considering how our economies, markets, and those involved in informing (or misinforming) the public operate, it is important to see the current struggle between profits and purpose and cultivate a growing preference toward the latter over the former.

Make no mistake, Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity, three companies focused on purpose over profits, are not "poor" by any stretch of the imagination. But while they may not reflect the immense earnings of other companies they share industries with, these other companies with immense earnings lack both the purpose and long-term viability of Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity.

Ultimately, it should be noted, it is preferable to forgo maximum profits when positioning yourself for a future you are bringing about, rather than obsessing over maximum profits today oblivious to a future you'll likely have no place (or profits) in.

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