Alex Roy of Cannonball Run fame made his case for why Tesla CEO Elon Musk should put him in the first fully autonomous Tesla, set to take stage when it drives cross-country without human input later this year.
To establish a firm foundation for his case, Roy backs his story on The Drive with history of the epic yet controversial cross-country speed route that is the Cannonball Run. The race has a long history of disputed claims based on lack of evidence due to the inability of racers to provide sufficient corroborating evidence. VIN verifications, multiple eye witnesses and fuel receipts evolved to become supporting evidence needed in the loosely defined rules for the Cannonball Run. Roy notes that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” as the capstone for his claim.
If Tesla is going to make the truly historic claim of being the first vehicle to drive autonomously from a California parking lot to a parking lot in New York as stated by Musk earlier this year, Roy believes it will require an equal amount of evidence. How will the public know that nobody touched the steering wheel while navigating to the fourth or fourteenth Supercharger on the route? Will the public be able to trust that the run actually happened without a full and complete set of incontrovertible evidence?
Roy posits that because the run Tesla will make is not simply a timed drive across the nation but truly a technological feat that seeks to establish a basis of trust with its customers, Tesla must establish a body of evidence that is irrefutable. The stakes are too high and, perhaps more importantly, the technology and skills to implement it exist.
Finally, Alex makes the case that in the very small subset of journalists and auto enthusiasts qualified to participate in the historic event, Roy is the most capable and qualified given his long history with autos, the Cannonball Run and autonomous driving. In terms of qualifications, it is clear that Roy is in a class apart. He’s in an elite club of extreme auto racers that are just crazy enough to attempt breaking long held records held by generations past.
The challenge with this particular run is that it is not a Cannonball Run style event. It will be going cross-country but not for time and Roy acknowledges that. Tesla has never been a company to sensationalize the work it does or the milestones it achieves. Major updates are typically rolled out to stores with media left to figure out what happened, where, to whom and how much it will cost without the typical press releases or media events. Sure, it hosts events for major product releases like the Model 3 reveal last year, but it has never aimed to be a hype factory.
Whether or not Tesla takes Roy up on his offer or plea to be the independent observer and counselor in the first vehicle of any kind to drive coast to coast fully autonomously is something we will see in due time, but another outcome is fully possible. If Tesla is so confident in its vast array of on-board camera and sensor technology – enough to be comfortable sending humans hurtling down the highway in one of its vehicles unassisted – it is also possible if not likely that it is already capturing and storing all of that sensor metadata.
With granular GPS breadcrumb data supported by feeds from the integrated camera array and a bevy of radar metadata, could it already prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it performed the trip cross country? And if someone is going to be in the car, Roy is the clear choice as he has the know-how to cover the run and an inhuman ability to wait hours and hours longer than is likely healthy to use the bathroom.