Tesla Autopilot is still described as “Beta” because the human driver has to maintain vigilance to ensure safety. I don’t usually share my Autopilot outtake videos in public, but this one is interesting in pointing out one of the challenges for AI self-driving, handling the unusual.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like the piece of farm equipment that pulled in front of my Model 3 today while Autopilot was enabled. The speed was 45 mph. I wondered what would happen, and at the last minute I slammed on my brakes to prevent a collision that would surely have occurred had I not done so.
I use Autopilot a lot and I will continue to use it. I will also continue to watch the road.
My insurance carrier, State Farm, offers the “Drive Safe and Save ™” program that rates driving, and offers discounts for good driving. It works using a “beacon” installed in the car, essentially an accelerometer paired with your mobile phone. It tracks location, speed, acceleration, braking, cornering and whether you’re using your mobile phone.
I’ve had the Drive Safe and Save beacon in my Model S for a couple of years. When I first got their app, the only information provided was a quarterly report. It said I accelerated too rapidly and braked too abruptly–that’s how Autopilot 1.0 worked back in 2017. Now the State Farm app is much more informative, allowing you to view your latest trip. It even pinpoints on a map when you do something it doesn’t approve of.
Just recently I installed the Drive Safe and Save beacon on my Model 3 with Autopilot 2.5 hardware. Today I took a 16-mile trip involving metropolitan city streets and very challenging twisty rural highways. Autopilot drove the entire way except when I had to manually stop for stop lights and make turns. When Drive Save and Save graded my driving, it was really grading Autopilot. Here is the result:
It gave my car’s driving 5 stars. That’s better than I usually get.
I’ve enjoyed Tesla Enhanced Autopilot on my Tesla Model 3, including the new Navigate on Autopilot feature. Autopilot requires human supervision, or else something bad is likely to happen. I believe that the combination of Autopilot and a human driver is better than a human driver alone. The human managing Autopilot has more bandwidth to monitor traffic and things approaching from the side. It reduces stress and helps the driver stay fresh.
With the current Autopilot the car sets a safe following distance with the car ahead, and does so superbly with extreme reliability. It also steers the car along the road just fine on controlled access highways, and with fair results on curvy rural highways. Basically, all the driver has to do us just watch for irregularities in the traffic and to pay attention to steering on tight curves. This is easy.
I have some reservations about supervising the Full Self-Driving Capability features slated for release this year. The car will do a lot more things to watch out for. It will change lanes on controlled-access highways. It will stop for traffic signals and stop signs. It will merge and exit roundabouts. Presumably it will handle city driving. That’s a lot to watch out for. It’s one thing to make sure the car keeps doing what it is doing, and another when the car starts making turns, yielding and switching lanes. Not only does the driver have to monitor the traffic, but also what the Autopilot is doing. Stay tuned.
When I bought my Tesla Model 3 Long Range RWD car last August, the EPA rated it at 310 miles of range. That was pretty great in my mind. But then something odd happened. Tesla introduced a dual motor version, which the EPA said was less fuel efficient, but with the same 310 miles of range. Supposedly both cars had the same battery, but why didn’t the less efficient car have lower range?
Not too long ago Tesla quietly changed the EPA rating of its Mid Range RWD Model 3 from 249 to 264 miles.
Now yesterday Tesla announced their long awaited $35,000 Standard Range RWD Tesla Model 3 with the advertised 220 miles of EPA rated range, but then something else happened–they added a new Standard Range Plus model for $37,000 miles and 240 miles of range, presumably again with the same battery.
And to complete the circle Tesla announced that my 310-mile car will receive a firmware update to increase its range to 325 miles. Well, isn’t that nice? It’s certainly interesting that not only is Tesla cutting prices on its cars, but their range is increasing too, even on cars they’ve already sold.
Last night I got a notice on my smartphone: My Tesla Model 3 has a software update. It’s like Christmas came early and I can hardly wait to open the presents.
So what did I get?
I got a new fireplace, with romantic music from the car’s “Romantic Mode.” This is a photo of the car’s 15″ touchscreen.
And I got a video game with controller. It’s Atari Pole Position on Mars! I can actually use the car’s steering wheel to drive the game car and use the brake pedal as an accelerator.
My dog got a heated dog house. Model S got a feature to leave the climate system on when exiting the car some months ago. Now it’s available for Model 3. Our dog Katie will be happy about that one.
And then I got a whoopie cushion. It’s called “Emissions Testing Mode.” Yes friends, when you activate the turn signal, the car farts. You can select which seat the fart seems to come from.
So those are the fun toys from Tesla. I also got socks, in the form of updates and fixes. One welcome update is an improvement in the Navigate on Autopilot feature where the car knows when it should get out of the passing lane. I expect the car will actually initiate the lane changes soon. I can hardly wait.
I think a lot about Tesla’s Autopilot, every time I drive, and when I comment on the Internet. I have some things I want to say to potential users.
Autopilot doesn’t drive your car; Autopilot helps you drive your car. If you decide not to drive the car, Autopilot will keep the car going in its lane at a reasonable speed for a while, but you’re leaving yourself open to injury or even death for yourself and others.
So if Autopilot can kill people, what good is it? Human drivers kill people all the time. There were 40,000 traffic fatalities in the US in 2017. What Autopilot does is to reduce the chance of an accident with an attentive human driver. Here’s how it does that:
Autopilot reduces fatigue. Keeping the car centered in its lane and maintaining the distance to the car in front is a tedious and monotonous task. Autopilot will do those things for you. It’s particularly useful in a traffic jam with stop and go traffic. One moment of inattentiveness can result in a collision when someone stop in front of you. The car may catch that sudden stop and brake in time.
Autopilot allows the driver to pay more attention to the traffic. By not focusing on that target spot down the road to steer the car by, the driver is freed to look around at traffic conditions. The driver has more bandwidth available to deal with traffic situation.
Autopilot provides blindspot warning, making it less likely that the driver will have a collision when changing lanes.
If the driver falls asleep and loosens contact with the wheel, Autopilot will sound audible alerts that might wake someone up, and if not the car will put on its emergency flashers, slow and stop.
Autopilot reduces accidents due to inattention. Inevitably a driver will shift attention away from the road–to set the air conditioning or change the navigation destination. They could be getting a drink of water or eating a snack. In those moments of inattention, the car might wander out of its lane or the driver fail to see a sudden stop ahead. Autopilot will keep the car in its lane and probably handle the stop. That’s one fewer accident scenario.
Autopilot can respond more quickly to certain emergency situations, and can even detect a sudden stop two cars ahead. I saw a video of a Tesla dodging a car that veered suddenly into its lane.
Autopilot provides an opportunity for an attentive driver to be more attentive to traffic and helps the driver stay alert. It’s a wonderful tool that I use every day to good effect. It’s not as useful for a driver that’s being reckless and not paying attention.