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Tesla’s new Autopilot will run in ‘shadow mode’ to prove that it’s safer than human driving

Tesla today rolled out a next-generation version of its autonomous driving hardware suite, which the company says the tech should be able to autonomously drive a Tesla from LA to New York, dropping a rider off in Times Square and then going to park itself.

But, before Teslas can start driving autonomously, the company needs to collect a lot of data to prove to customers (and regulators) that the technology is safe and reliable. So, the car will run Autopilot in “shadow mode” in order for Tesla to gather statistical data to show false positives and false negatives of the software. In shadow mode, the car isn’t taking any action, but it registers when it would have taken action. Then, if the Tesla is in an accident, the company can see if the autonomous mode would have avoided the accident (or the other way around, with the self-driving system potentially causing an accident).

It will record how the car would have acted if the computer was in control, including information about how the car might have avoided an accident (or caused one). That data would then be used to show “a material improvement in the accident rate over manually driven cars,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk on a call with reporters today. “I think at that point regulators would be comfortable approving it.”

Musk said that he hopes the US will not end up with a patchwork of autonomous regulations across states, noting that the EU appears like it will have a unified standard. He hopes that Tesla’s collection of statistical data regarding potential autonomous vehicle actions — millions of miles across thousands of cars driving in the real world — will help regulators be comfortable enough to sign off on his self-driving vision.

“We look carefully at the regulations and make sure that what we do is in line with those,” Musk said. “We can’t do anything other than that because it would be against the law.”


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