On its quarterly earnings call, Mobileye announced that it will no longer work with Tesla on its Autopilot system beyond the current product cycle.
Tesla Autopilot uses the Mobileye EyeQ3 processor to provide image analysis intelligence. Mobileye, the largest supplier of camera-based advanced driver assistance safety systems, instead will start focusing on fully autonomous vehicles, which it called the “turning point” in the auto industry. In fact, earlier this month Mobileye announced a partnership with BMW and Intel to get fully autonomous cars on the road by 2021.
Mobileye, which will debut the EyeQ4 processor in 2018, didn’t say when its partnership with Tesla will officially end or which company ended the relationship.
“Mobileye’s work with Tesla will not extend beyond the EyeQ3,” Mobileye said in a statement. “We continue to support and maintain the current Tesla Autopilot product plans. This includes a significant upgrade of several functions that affect both the ability to respond to crash avoidance and to optimize auto-steering in the near term, without any hardware updates.”
When asked by a reporter if Mobileye and Tesla would ever work together again, Shashua said he is not ruling anything out. “I think it was Henry Kissinger that said, we have no friends, no enemies, only interests,” he said. “Nothing is fixed. If in the future, things will change, we’ll change our decision.”
On the earnings call, Mobileye CTO Amnon Shashua suggested there are concerns about the reputation and safety of Mobileye’s technology. While he didn’t specifically mention it, this is a reference to the fatal Autopilot crash earlier this year that killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown.
Tesla said Autopilot failed to identify a trailer because it was white and it didn’t recognize the contrast with the bright sky. Mobileye said its technology was never designed to handle the scenario that led to the fatal crash. It says the EyeQ4 will be able to detect this type of situation.
“We have read the account of what happened in this case. Today’s collision avoidance technology, or Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), is defined as rear-end collision avoidance, and is designed specifically for that,” Mobileye wrote after the fatal crash. “This [fatal] incident involved a laterally crossing vehicle, which current-generation AEB systems are not designed to actuate upon. Mobileye systems will include Lateral Turn Across Path (LTAP) detection capabilities beginning in 2018, and the Euro NCAP safety ratings will include this beginning in 2020.”
The fatal crash, and a couple other crashes, have led to intense scrutiny about how Tesla released and has handled its Autopilot system. Consumers Reports has urged Tesla to disable Autopilot, saying “consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety ‘beta’ programs.”
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said Tesla should reconsider renaming Autopilot as it’s potentially confusing. “The name ‘Autopilot’ could create a consumer expectation problem and a potential moral hazard. When you hear the world ‘Autopilot,’ you may think of technology for commercial airline pilots which temporarily relieve the human operator from using the aircraft controls. In fact, Tesla Autopilot is meant to be a driver assist and when activating the system, the driver is presented with a warning that is meant to keep his hands on the wheel at all times to ensure safe operation of the vehicle. Unfortunately, some drivers may be tempted to explore the novelty factor of the system in ways that expose themselves, fellow passengers and other vehicles on public roads to great danger.”
Tesla, however, said Autopilot isn’t going anywhere and its Master Plan, Part Deux, even includes Tesla self-driving trucks and buses, both of which are in the early stages of development and should be unveiled some time in 2017.