Hybrids & Electrics

Autonomous Confusion: Burger King Roadside Signs Make Teslas Stop

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 cause Teslas to stop. There is confusion because the sign recognition system is matching the details of the Burger King logo to certain criteria that have been downloaded into its ECU. It sees the Burger King logo much like a Stop sign. No, really. 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 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.

RELATED: How Does Traffic Sign Recognition Work?

Burger King saw the post and made a commercial, “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 at eye level. Also shown is the touchscreen indication of a traffic control sign; a Stop sign to us. 

BK free Whopper image

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

To qualify for the Promotion, guests must share a picture or video on Twitter or Facebook

“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.”

With the Burger King sign not vaguely similar to street, highway, or rural signage, how can this happen?

Burger King identifies any “smart car” but this is about Tesla’s sign recognition glitch, especially with the hashtag “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; hopefully not too late.

If a Burger King sign can cause a Tesla to stop what else can fool it into functioning in certain ways? 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 within a Tesla 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 in their function

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 is functioning in the real world, not some testing laboratory.

It’s both fun and scary watching the Tesla getting confused about what a Burger King sign means. It’s also fun thinking of all the ways you could control someone’s Tesla. But, it shows that autonomous vehicles still, for the immediate future, need to maintain human assistance as crucial.