Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the Tesla Semi in November 2017 in Hawthorne, California.

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Electric car maker testing "Mad Max" autopilot mode

Prototype system is designed for heavy traffic

CNN  — 

The futuristic film “Mad Max” is having a real-life moment, and those who drive in heavy traffic will understand why.

Electric vehicle maker Tesla is trying out an aggressive “Mad Max” driving mode in its prototype autopilot feature, chief executive Elon Musk revealed Monday.

The mode – named after the post-apocalyptic 1979 Mel Gibson film – is the highest setting of Tesla’s blind spot detection system in its autopilot.

The setting, which allows for a smaller distance threshold to nearby vehicles, is made for highways with heavy traffic – like Los Angeles’ notorious Interstate 405 during rush hour – when changing lanes can be challenging.

Musk responded to a Twitter user’s creative image of a Tesla semi truck featured in a “Mad Max” dystopian setting with, “It’s real.”

He tweeted a photo of Tesla’s development-stage autopilot display, showing “Mad Max” mode beside the lower “Aggressive” and “Standard” settings.

Musk, who reportedly owns multiple homes in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, appears to be influenced by the city’s snarling traffic.

“We considered going beyond ‘Mad Max’ to ‘LA Freeway’ level, but that’s too loco,” he added in another tweet.

In November, Tesla announced plans to enter the heavy vehicle market, starting with a semi truck to begin production next year. The Tesla Semi will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 20 seconds while carrying 80,000 pounds, according to the automaker, and can travel 300 to 500 miles in one charge.

It will also feature autonomous driving enhancements, including “automatic emergency braking, automatic lane keeping, lane departure warning, and event recording.”

Tesla’s current autopilot system, featured in the Model S and recently released Model 3, controls steering, braking and acceleration – though drivers are still required to hold the steering wheel and stay alert.

“Every driver is responsible for remaining alert and active when using Autopilot, and must be prepared to take action at any time,” Tesla says on its website.

Autopilot controversy

The system has not been controversy-free, however.

Autopilot was in use during two fatal Tesla crashes, most recently in March just a few miles from Tesla’s Palo Alto, California headquarters. The incident sparked an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and complaints from consumer safety watchdogs.

“The system worked as described, which is that it’s a hands-on system, not a self-driving system,” Musk told CBS This Morning, responding to the incident. “It’s important to emphasize it will never be perfect.

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Continuous testing

Tesla is one of several players investing heavily in automated driving, along with the likes of Google, Uber, Toyota and BMW.

Several states, including Arizona and Nevada, allow fully self-driving cars to be tested on the road with safety drivers on board, according to The Brookings Institute. California passed a law allowing remote monitoring of self-driving vehicles in April.