Elon Musk isn’t one to shy away from keeping secrets from the public. The various high-tech startups at his command have been known to engage in some rather hush-hush operations, from SpaceX launching secret satellite payloads for the intelligence industry or releasing a line of $500 Super Soaker-esque flamethrowers with no warning to help fund his plan to dig a tunnel under Los Angeles. He’s like a Bond villain, except not evil. Or perhaps not as evil. In what sounds like something straight out of a Bond film, Tesla has recently responded to inquiries about its lack of logged self-driving miles and its delays in releasing its new “Autopilot” features by issuing a mysterious response that has some Tesla owners scratching their heads.
Most of the research and development in autonomous vehicle technology happens in California, the home of Silicon Valley. Because permits must be acquired through the California DMV, most of the big names in the race for the self-driving car market release their logged miles as that information is technically private. Tesla, however, just has to be different. What else would Elon Musk do? When pressed for answers as to why Tesla logged zero miles on public roads last year, a spokesperson gave the following somewhat cryptic statement:
Because Tesla is the only participant in the program that has a fleet of hundreds of thousands of customer-owned vehicles that test autonomous technology in “shadow-mode” during their normal operation (these are not autonomous vehicles nor have they been driven in autonomous mode as defined by California law), Tesla is able to use billions of miles of real-world driving data to develop its autonomous technology.
Does that mean Tesla vehicles are using their unwitting human drivers as trainers? Are some of these vehicles taking the wheel without their owners knowing? It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic of Elon Musk to pull something like that. Tesla jumped out early as one of the biggest names in self-driving vehicles, as Tesla vehicles come standard with the ability for self-driving. However, the company has been waiting to issue updates that will allow the cars to go fully driverless. Elon Musk has indicated that the update is almost finished. Will Tesla establish itself as the first major player in autonomous vehicles?