In the latest software update as of December 2018, Tesla has released a new update to its autopilot system. I am very excited to try this new feature called Navigate On Autopilot. This features is still in Beta just as Autopilot itself.
Over few last years, the Autopilot have had a bad reputation due to several crash reports etc. I personally know Tesla drivers who are worried to use the system due to reported crash accidents. My personal experience with the Autopilot so far was good except few problems which I will discuss below.
Safety and driving vigilance have always been my priority. I apply the same principles to driving using autopilot.
Enjoy and leave any comments or feedback !
What is Tesla Autopilot
The Tesla Autopilot is a complex system and behind the fancy name there are two major parts as related to the driving experience:
Autopilot Speed and Distance Control
The speed control is a basic feature that many older cars have. Basically, driver can set a given speed setting and the car maintains that speed. Nothing special or fancy here.
The distance control is a new system which many new cars in the market have. Driver can preset the distance to the car in front and the car will maintain this distance. Tesla Autopilot maintains the distance by reducing the speed of your vehicle and if the car in front stops, Tesla would also come to a full stop. Not sure many cars can maintain distance to the full stop. Moreover, Tesla Autopilot continues to maintain the speed and distance after the car in front starts moving again. Again, I am not sure that many other cars can do this. This helps greatly when driving in the heavy stop and go traffic. Instead of the driver constantly pressing gas and brake pedals, the car takes care of this. I do try to use this system in traffic as much as I can however there is a slight catch.
The Tesla Autopilot is sensitive or over protective and for the good reason. If the car in front of you stops very quickly or abruptly, the Tesla Autopilot stops very quickly and uses the full force to push on brakes. The full force pushing on the brakes by autopilot is what I do not appreciate. The autopilot could be using the regenerative braking more versus slamming on the brakes. When I manually stops, my first choice is regenerative braking stopping and then pushing on brakes if the situation calls for it. The Autopilot on the other hand seem to favor pushing on brakes more than regenerative braking. This is not to say Autopilot does not use regenerative braking but only in the normal and light braking situations versus in the stop and go traffic.
Autopilot Auto Steering
The auto steering is a new and advanced feature of the Tesla Autopilot. Many new cars claim to have this feature but believe me they do not work the same. I tried several cars that claim to have this feature including Toyota, Lexus, and some German cars. However, many of them do not keep the car driving straight. The car starts to wonder from left to right and does not keep the steady path. The Tesla’s Autopilot has a very strong and straight steering which keeps the car dead center in the road path. I tried this feature before I made my Model S purchase and was very much impressed.
The autopilot allows you to easily change the lanes on the road by engaging the left or right turn signal controls. The autopilot changes the lanes by itself.
In the latest update, the autopilot can now also detect the side traffic and will not change lanes to the left or right if there is traffic. Again, I found the system being over sensitive/protective. For example, if you are trying to change lanes on the highway using autopilot and there is traffic coming behind in the parallel lane, the system has a lag and will not make a turn quickly. By the time the system is ready to make a turn, the car behind you is already fairly close. The system then detects the side traffic and prevents the turn.
Autopilot in Everyday Commuting
I use Tesla Autopilot everyday on my regular commutes to work. The system can be engaged on any road if it has proper lanes. Many small roads in the Philadelphia area do not have lanes so it is not possible to use this system everywhere. However, on larger roads and highways, the system works very well.
One recent change that happened to autopilot is the continuous reminders to hold the wheel. This is a safety feature that Tesla put in after many accidents that happened. Depending on your speed, you might get these notifications more often. It seems the faster you drive, the more often you get the notifications. This should encourage many to drive within the speed limits or slower 🙂 This is quite annoying but does force drivers to pay attention to the wheel and road.
The Autopilot system works well in both Day and Night conditions. It also works fine in the heavy rain. All cameras in the car must be in the clean condition, however. Once in the winter few cameras became blocked by the snow and dirt and the system was automatically turned off.
One word of caution, do not attempt to jerk or abruptly turn the steering wheel while driving using auto steering. From my personal experience, this is not a good idea. Auto steer has a strong grip on your wheel as it tries to keep the car driving in the middle of the road path as much as possible. If you attempt to grab the wheel and jerk it to the left or right, the car will quickly veer off the road and auto steer will try just as quickly bring it back to the original path. This turn to the side and back happens so fast that the car’s tail starts to slide back and forth and you can hear the tires spinning off the track. Do not do this especially on the highway and on the high speeds.
Another note, do not try to engage the auto steer when you have already started to change the lanes on the high way. The car is crossing the lanes and you engage the auto steer. This also results in the rather jerky take over by the autopilot trying to put the car inline with the new road path. This does not result in the smooth and light turn.
I enjoy autopilot regularly on my commutes and I think the system is very good and safe. However, you have to keep some things in mind which I mentioned above. Drive safe and pay attention to the road.
When using autopilot in the airplanes, I never assume that the system fully and completely takes over my pilot duties. The system is there to reduce your work load a a pilot and you can take this time for planning, navigation and communication. I apply the same principles to the Tesla’s Autopilot. It allows me to plan my navigation routes and select the best possible.
One final note, the Tesla’s Autopilot made me a safer and calmer driver. How? I do not struggle to keep speed and the wheel all the time I drive. I preset my speed, select the path and enjoy the road ahead. The navigation tells me the arrival time. This means I do not speed or try to pass anyone on the road. In fact, I now calmly observe everyone nervously passing me on the highways 🙂
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