Tesla Autopilot

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 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.

 

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Tesla Model S to Model 3 transition

I took delivery of a Tesla Model S 60 kWh (now 75 kWh) in September of 2016 and it has been by far the best car I’ve ever driven. Much can be said about the technology of Model S, its styling, and its role in reducing Carbon emissions, but the thing that impressed me most was simply how much fun it was to drive. I felt like I was flying–not balloon flying, but Superman flying.

For all the wonderful things that could be said about Model S, it wasn’t really the car I wanted: It was too big, and mine would never be capable of self driving. Model 3, on the other hand, promises to be those things, and indeed, I ordered a Model 3 even before I took delivery of Model S in September of 2016. Finally, my Model 3 arrived and I took delivery yesterday, not to replace my Model S which my wife likes very much, but her old gasoline car. We’re all electric now.

This blog post is about my transition from a Model S to a Model 3.

Differences

The Model S I bought had the standard seats and interior, so no fog lamps, no premium sound system and no glass roof. I did get smart air suspension. Once upgraded to 75 kWh it had 249 miles of rated range, but after 37,000 miles of driving range is down to 230-something. For the long trips I’ve wanted to take the range was adequate, but just barely enough to support more direct routing between Superchargers. I’m looking forward to the extra range in Model 3. All Model 3s sold now have the premium package that includes the premium sound system, fog lamps, ambient lighting, power seats and the glass roof. With the premium package, the features of the car remind one of Model S.

Day 1

Delivery

There was virtually no difference in the delivery experience between Model S and Model 3. I took delivery of Model S in Matthews, North Carolina and Model 3 in Glen Allen, Virginia. It was a very congenial dialog between me and the delivery specialist. We went over the basics, most of which I already knew having driven a Tesla before and being familiar with the videos and the owner’s manual. The only notable difference was in the lack of swag. With Model S I got a coffee mug, a certificate and an umbrella. None of that with Model 3. (There’s been talk of the “5 minute” Model 3 delivery, but mine took about 30 including the paperwork.)

Driving

Due to a tight schedule, I didn’t have time to really exercise Model 3 except on the 51-mile drive home mostly on an interstate highway. The few twisty roads leading to my house would have been interesting except for the slow delivery truck in front of me.

On the interstate I found that Model S was a bit smoother riding than Model 3. That might be the air suspension I have on the Model S. Model S is also a little quieter perhaps for the same reason, but not much. The Autopilot was still calibrating for the first 25 miles of the trip, so I drove half with cruise control (TACC) and half without. I couldn’t engage Autosteer because I hadn’t accepted the disclaimer and the car has to be in Park to do that. It seemed to me that TACC was a little smoother when slowing down for another car and that is consistent with what I have heard from other drivers with the current firmware release.

Controls and display

Controls and display are a major point of discussion with Model 3 and on the first day there are a lot of controls to set. I think some of the earlier criticism of controls has been answered by firmware upgrades. While Model 3 has virtually no dedicated controls and everything is done on the large touch screen, in practice that’s not a problem.

For example, there was criticism that the cruise control speed and following distance were set on the touch screen, but when driving with TACC on, the right scroll wheel on the steering wheel sets both of those functions. The touch screen isn’t involved. Most things are automatic: windshield wipers and headlights for example. People had concerns that the speedometer was on the right rather than directly in front on the dash, but speed is something you set, not something you have to read on a Tesla. I can glance at the speedometer in about 0.1 seconds and this is because the speed display is large and completely clear of the steering wheel. (I really like not having to set the steering wheel somewhere just so I can see the speed.)

Some of the more obscure controls that are rarely used (setting up Wi-Fi, Bluetooth phone pairing, garage door opening, radio favorites) may take a bit of finding, but these are things you’d never do while driving. Before the first day is over, a Model 3 driver will be able to tap Controls and know that everything that’s conceivably needed for driving is there on the Quick Controls panel–but even those things will rarely be needed after the first day.

I went out and sat in the car for about 15 minutes going through all of the display options and I found it logical. After that time, I’m comfortable with finding things. But I must emphasize that when driving, the controls you really need are found on the steering wheel under the scroll buttons and the stalks. The touch screen is for monitoring and settings; the steering wheel is for driving.

The display for navigation was top notch. I cannot overemphasize how crisp and readable this display is–better than Model 3. Overall I strongly prefer the Model 3 touch screen over Model S.

The one thing I miss is the energy display, a graphical display of energy usage over time and a plot of how my driving compares to projections.

Overall I am very pleased with the Model 3 display and control system as now delivered, but I think it will be even better when, as promised, voice controls are expanded.

Features

So far my hands down favorite feature of Model 3 is the air conditioning vent (singular). I never was able to control the air flow exactly where I wanted it in Model S. It was either blowing in my face, or not blowing on me at all. Model 3’s single-vent system made positioning of the air flow effortless. I really like it.

One complaint about Model S is its sparse personal storage space. Model 3 excels in this area with door pockets in all 4 doors, seat back pouches in the premium model and a really well-designed center console with lots of space and much more intelligently located cup holders (let’s face it–cars are all about cup holders). I like the dedicated charging slots for phones.

The rear trunk storage space in Model 3 is less than Model S (16 vs 30 cu. ft.) and that’s an issue mitigated in part by Model 3’s space being more square. Model 3 is a sedan rather than a hatchback like Model S. The sub trunk can be exposed to allow transportation of taller items. One thing I like about Model 3 is that the rear seats fold down to make a flat storage space unlike Model S. I’ll comment more later when I’ve had a chance to haul things in Model 3.

Room to improve

The car does, however, need one more USB port so that it can charge 2 phones and have a place to plug in a USB flash drive for music. I’d also like to see a more accessible solution for 12V power for a dash cam.

Performance

Model S has a slight edge on performance, but Model 3 provides that same effortless power experience. I found myself going 80 on the interstate without noticing (the rest of the traffic was going pretty fast too). The Model 3 has more acceleration than I’m comfortable using.

Summary of the first day

I really like the car. It’s only going to get better both because I’ll get more familiar with it and because the Version 9 firmware release and the first full self driving features will start to appear.

Day 2

Second impressions

I had an errand to run and took a 40-mile detour on the way home:) The car handles remarkably well on tight turns, and the driver’s seat is very comfortable. I again confirmed that looking to the side for the speedometer is a non-issue, plus with the industry’s best cruise control, unnecessary most of the time.

Again my frame of reference is Model S and I found a couple of things today that I really like about Model 3. One of the slightly annoying features of the Model S is walk-up unlock. When you approach your locked Model S with a key fob, it unlocks, the door handles present, it beeps, the headlights flash, and the mirrors unfold (if they were folded). That’s fine in a parking lot, but if you’re moving around the car at home, it keeps locking and unlocking–mildly annoying. The Model 3 has the same sensing concept (except it’s your smartphone instead of a key fob), but the car doesn’t actually do anything until you push on the door handle. It unlocks when it needs to.

Another improvement in Model 3 is with turn signals. To start Auto Lane Change on Model S, you have to keep the turn signal on until it changes lanes and the most efficient way to do that is to press the lever all the way and set the turn signal on continuously. The problem is that once the car changes lanes, the turn signal stays on and you have to cancel it manually. Model 3 cancels the turn signal after it completes an auto lane change automatically. Hooray!

One thing I didn’t pick up in my Model 3 research is the fact that one sits pretty low in the car. This means that a driver with mobility problems is going to find ingress and egress more difficult than with Model S. This is a good use for the Easy Entry profile. When you set your driver profile to use Easy Exit, the car lifts the seat up automatically. I just discovered that, and will see how it works as Model 3 and I get older.

A funny thing happened on the way home. I wanted the navigation system to map a route to my house. On Model S, I know now to set up a home and work address; it’s a single finger swipe to start the trip. I couldn’t figure out while driving how to do that, so I just said “navigate home” and it did. I really don’t know how the car knew where I lived. I need to read up on the nav system. The point I want to make here is that while I didn’t know exactly how to use the touch screen to accomplish what I wanted, I didn’t need to. [Edited to add: Duh. The NAV works just like Model S in that there is a lozenge with the word “Navigate” on it that navigates home when one swipes down. But why swipe when you can just ask politely?]

Autopilot

One thing I was interested to learn is how Tesla’s 2.5 Autopilot compares to version 1.0 in my Model S. My impression is that Autosteer has improved a good bit on the Model 3. I took it on come curvy roads and it handled all but the sharpest turns. I did experience some mystery slowdowns for a moment on 3 occasions one on a sharp curve at night with oncoming headlights–a situation that the owner’s manual cautions about. It appears that Model 3 is not yet reading speed limit signs: In my neighborhood it doesn’t show the speed limit at all (and we have signs) and on the highway it shows the speed as 55 when the sign clearly says 45. No doubt a future firmware update will take care of this problem. On those roadways of the type Autopilot beta is supposed to be used on, it operates flawlessly.

Day 3-5

Key fob

I’m still debating the question of whether it’s OK not to have a Model 3 key fob. The Model 3 uses a paired smartphone as the primary key, and a credit card-like backup key. Around the house my smartphone is often on the desk or charging and so when I go out to the car, I don’t have it. I have to go back in to get my wallet with the card, or pick up the phone. It’s a minor inconvenience. The solution, in my humble opinion, is not a key fob but rather a geographic setting to disable walk-away door locks at home.

Two millimeters

Articles and YouTube videos abound complaining about the “fit and finish” of the Tesla Model 3. When I got the car, I looked at it hastily and everything seemed to line up well, the doors shut solidly and I didn’t see any manufacturing flaws; however, for the purposes of reviewing the car, I got out a digital gauge to measure gaps between body panels, and I did find up to 2 mm in variance from side to side on the trunk. On a BMW, this would have been unacceptable, but I’m not a dimensional engineer, and if I have to measure it to see it, then it doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned.

Styling

For pure visual appeal, I like Model S better. As many have said, Model 3 looks like a smaller Model S–from the side. From the front Model S reminds me of a crouching panther. Model 3 just looks like a car. People come up to me in parking lots all the time to ask about my Model S, but to date no one has noticed or asked about Model 3 (my Model S is white and Model 3 is midnight silver and that might have something to do with it).

I really like Model 3’s interior though. Minimalism is good.

Getting in and out

The driver of Model 3 sits really low in the car, so low in fact that I had to work at getting out of it. I was initially concerned about this because I’m a senior; however, I was able to use the “Easy entry” driver profile to good advantage. When I stop the car, put it in park and open the door, the seat lifts and slides back as the steering wheel rises. It’s not hard to get out of the car after that. The only drawback is that it takes a few seconds for the seat to reposition.

Conclusion

I think most folks would be ecstatic after 5 days with the Tesla Model 3. I’m not. I’m not because I was driving a Model S before, which is an equally great car. I’m certainly not disappointed. When the car starts driving itself, then I’ll get excited again.

 

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Bad bot

My web sites don’t get a lot of traffic. One of them dealing with the birther movement was getting 40,000 unique visitors a month, but after I stopped publishing new articles, that dropped sharply. What continued was search engine spiders (bots) crawling and indexing the pages. At least 90% of my traffic is from search engines.

One of the bots that tore up one of my sites, accessing the same page over and over a thousand times, was SemRushbot. The amount of web traffic it generated was staggering and I filed a complaint with them for damages. Because of that abusive bot, I’ve been watching the spider traffic more closely and identified another bot that is spending a lot of time on my website, DotBot.

Neither of the two bots is a search engine. One supposedly monitors ad campaigns for a site’s competitors, and the other has to do with eCommerce. None of my sites has ad campaigns or any kind of eCommerce. Those bots have no business on my sites.

The standard way to stop a bot is to ask it nicely to go away. That’s done with the robots.txt file. The problem with that approach is that the spider can just ignore the file and crawl your site anyway or it may take some time for the spider to find out that you’ve changed the file.

In the case of SemRushbot, it appears that it does respect robots.txt because in the last 24 hours on the site where that bot caused so much trouble I found that it had accessed the robots.txt file 13 times, sometimes twice in the same minute, but that is the only file it accessed. DotBot is not so cooperative. It accessed the robots.txt 30 times, but ignored it and accessed 233 other pages–it didn’t get them though. I use the WordFence plugin on all my sites and one of its features is the advanced blocking capability of banning a user agent. All the DotBot traffic was rejected with an error code. Another bot that spends a lot of time on my site and provides no value is AhrefsBot, and I block it too.

The most prolific bot on my server right now is BingBot for the Bing search engine. That’s fine because I want people to be able to find my site if they want to. GoogleBot is there about half as much.

On my largest site I have added the location of my sitemaps.xml file in the robots.txt file. That contains the date the posts were last updated and hopefully the spiders will be smart enough not to re-scan pages that haven’t been updated.

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Web attacks

All of my blogs were down yesterday and I spent several hours scrambling to get things back up.

Someone started attacking the Contact Us page on one of my other blogs. I got over 76,000 spam emails from it, but the larger problem was that the page accesses were coming so fast that they blocked any legitimate traffic to my web sites (they’re all hosted under the same account). My web hosting company, vps.net, throttles the number of emails the site can send, but that number wasn’t enough to keep me from being inundated by spam, and it didn’t take any load off the site.

It wasn’t just one computer doing this. Analysis showed over 500 different IP addresses participating in the attack. (All of the ones I checked were from China.) Software on my sites blocks excessive accesses by a user, but this was hundreds of them, individually not over the limit, but collectively devastating.

To fix this, I had to put the site offline using tools outside the normal web interface. I deleted the contact form, and put a deny rule in place so that the web server won’t even pass a request for that page to my site. I replaced the contact form on all my sites with one protected by reCAPTCHA so they won’t appear ripe for abuse.

The analysis and repair was a huge effort, and the sites were down for half a day before I was even aware of it. Someone with less experience than I would probably have had to pay a consultant to fix things, and it might have taken days. As it was, my web hosting account was 40 minutes away from being disabled because of all the spam. My point is that these attacks are a big problem, and one that needs to be fixed at a higher level than the individual blogger like me.

[Update]: It happened again, only worse. Starting around the end of December, 2017, I was hit by a hotlinking attack. A web page embedded images from several sites including one of mine and then started accessing that page. In fact over 4,000 different IP addresses accessed that page, some as many as 17,000 times. I found that the IP addresses were from Amazon Web Services across the world that hosted a site uptime testing service.) The result was that I ran out of bandwidth and my host, vps.net, shut all my sites down. This resulted in a multi-day outage because my hosting plan was frozen until I upgraded the account to pay for more bandwidth. In this instance the ultimate solution was to block hotlinking altogether.

As part of the solution, I moved all my sites to another hosting company that doesn’t have a bandwidth limit on the account.

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Can I guess your password?

I probably could. Just give me a few billion guesses. Web sites that you log into don’t store your password; they use some cryptographic technique to store a scrambled version of it. When you log in, they scramble the password you enter the same way and compare the scrambled versions. If they match, you’re in.

The problem is lots of those scrambled passwords aren’t stored using the best technology available, and there are huge passwords lists available on the Internet so that someone can start guessing. Even an 8-character password can be guessed through brute force.

Good passwords are nigh impossible to remember, and it’s tough to keep it all straight. What some folks do (myself included sometimes) is to use one password for multiple web sites and services. That means that if your weak scrambled password gets out, then every log in using that same password is now open for identity thieves, email spammers and other malicious actors.

There are a couple of solutions. One of them is to use a scheme whereby you make up passwords that you can remember. Security expert Bruce Schneier has one of those. I use something like Schneier’s approach for my Facebook password and a couple of others, but the best approach for me is to use a password manager. There are several around. These programs use strong encryption to store your passwords, and they can create strong random passwords for you to use. I use one called KeePass, but there are others. One nice thing about KeePass is that you can put the software on a flash drive or a cloud drive, and run it from there. It’s not necessary to install the program on your computer. There are versions for Windows, iOS and Android.

It seems like there are security breaches and hacks happening with increasing frequency. More and more of our data goes online. I do what I can to keep it secure.

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I feel like I’m being followed

I posted a message last year on the Tesla forum about an upcoming round trip of about 200 miles and whether I could make it on my then Model S 60 in Winter. The consensus was that I’d have to find some charging solution at my destination. Shortly before the trip, Tesla opened its Supercharger in my destination of Columbia, SC.

My next challenge was a round trip to Birmingham, AL. Again, I was going to have to find some local charging solution that was going to be very inconvenient. But a month before the trip, Tesla opened its Supercharger in Birmingham.

So a couple weeks ago, I was visiting family in Martinsburg, WV. Now with my Model S upgraded to 75 kWh, this round trip was fairly easy, but still if I drove a lot at my destination I’d have to find some charging. When I got there, I was greeted with “Oh, did you know they’ve built a new Supercharger here in Martinsburg?” It’s not on Tesla’s map, but the station is physically complete (photo following), but wasn’t online. I’ll be back there often.

Now I have several likely trips coming up to Charlottesville, VA. Last time I went there, charging was messy. I had to use some 120 V AC charging, and then for an unexpected side trip I had a 20 minute drive to get to Martin Horn Inc. to charge at his solar-powered HPWC, and a long sit in the car. On another trip there I had a long sit in the car at a Nissan dealership in the middle of the night. Guess what Supercharger is under construction now?

[Update: 9/23/2017] The Charlottesville Supercharger is complete, and I charged there this week.

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Habitat tablet

So I was out on the Habitat build site in Greenville today, using my Habitat tablet computer. As you can see from the photo, it sports a 7” diagonal screen and has a convenient kick stand. You can write on it with the optional stylus, shown.

It is extremely useful for database applications, such as storing dimensions for construction. It can be used with windows.

Photo of Scrap piece of drip edge with carpenter's pencil

Check out some of my other Habitat photos.

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