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If your Tesla is stopping at every freeway exit where a Burger King is located, it’s not wondering “Where’s the beef?” It can’t, because it’s an inanimate, well, you know why. It’s because Burger King roadside signs are causing Teslas to stop. The confusion is because the autonomous sign recognition system is matching the details of the Burger King logo to certain criteria downloaded into its ECU. It sees the Burger King logo as a Stop sign. So, maybe these autonomous “smart systems” aren’t so smart after all?

But the burghers at Burger King are not letting this Tesla glitch go without some promotional gravitas. A Tesla owner uploaded to YouTube the autonomous confusion phenomenon as it was happening. Don’t be distracted by the sawed-off steering wheel that looks like it came out of the Batmobile. We don’t know either.

“Smart cars are smart enough to brake for a Whopper”

Promo people at Burger King saw the post and made a commercial from it. “Smart cars are smart enough to brake for a Whopper,” is how this starts. We see through the windshield a Burger King sign at the top of the hill about eye level. Also shown is the touchscreen indication of a traffic control sign or Stop sign to you and me.

Next, we see, “Artificial intelligence knows what you crave.” From there instructions for the promotion Burger King fashioned around the video. A free Whopper is yours if you did the following:

“To qualify for the Promotion, guests must share a picture or video on Twitter or Facebook with a guest’s smart car outside a BK restaurant using #autopilotwhopper and #freewhopper. Guests who complete step #3 will receive a direct message, within 24 hours of posting the picture/video, with a unique code for a Free Whopper sandwich (“Coupon”). Limit one coupon per account.”

What about other signs out and about?

Burger King sign
Burger King restaurant sign | Horacio Villalobos Corbis/Corbis via Getty

Burger King identifies any “smart car,” but this is about Tesla’s autonomous sign recognition confusion glitch, especially with the hashtag being “autopilot.” So while this is all fun and games and good for everyone, it does raise some serious concerns. With the Burger King sign not even vaguely similar to any street, highway, or rural signage identification, how can this happen? And, what other confusion is just waiting to be exposed?

If a Burger King sign can cause a Tesla to stop, what else can fool it? What if you took a piece of paper and used a marker to make an arrow pointing left or right, then you held it in front of a Tesla? Could you confuse the computer to make it go left or right? Could a clock face the size of a Stop sign make the Tesla do something?

Users understand there could be some irregularities with autonomous systems

Tesla readily admits that this is a Beta system. Keep in mind that users understand there could be some irregularities in their function. The only problem with that is it’s functioning in the real world, not some testing environment.

It’s both fun and scary watching the Tesla getting confused about a Burger King sign. But, it shows that autonomous vehicles still, for the immediate future, need to maintain human assistance as crucial. 


How Does Traffic Sign Recognition Work?