Tesla Model S can almost self drive itself on major highways. Navigate on Autopilot is the latest update to the Tesla Autopilot system or Tesla ADS, Automated Driving System. This feature was installed over the air in December 2018.
For reference, you can find the descriptions of each level of driver assistance technology published by NHTSA in this article:
Based on the above automation levels and my hands on experience with the latest Tesla Autopilot with the Navigate On Autopilot feature, I believe Tesla ADS is between Level 2 and getting close to the Level 3. With Level 3, driver is a necessity but is not required to monitor the environment but at the same time must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times. This has been my experience with the Tesla Navigate On Autopilot turned on, especially on highways. Tesla Model S can for the most part self drive itself. The only setting which forces Tesla Autopilot to still gravitate to Level 2 are the periodic reminders to keep your hands on the wheel. These reminders are quite annoying.
Tesla Autopilot Settings
It is easy to start using the new Tesla Autopilot Navigate on Autopilot self driving system. It needs to be activated in the Autopilot settings menu when the car is parked as follows:
I have almost overlooked this feature in the beginning because of its vague name. With the recent update, this feature can now be set to automatically turn on when it is available.
At this time, the new self driving feature is only available on the highways and is automatically turned off as soon as you exit. When Auto Steering is activated and Navigate on Autopilot is enabled, the blue center line appears in the middle of the road in the driver display. This blue line in the center tells the driver that the new automated driving Navigate On Autopilot mode is activated.
When the automated driving system detects that current lane must be changed due to upcoming turn or traffic conditions, the lane change message appears in the navigation display as shown below and also in the driver center console. The system asks the driver to confirm the lane change by using the turn single:
With the recent updates to the Tesla Navigate on Autopilot automated driving system, I have a choice to make this feature to automatically take turns without my consent. Meaning, I do not need to confirm the lane changes when Tesla ADS decides that lane change is appropriate. This means Tesla self drives and turns when it decides that turning is appropriate. I have noticed interesting behaviors related to this self driving capability.
I have collected the following benefits and negatives of using the Tesla Navigate On Autopilot automated driving system in every day commuting traffic in Philadelphia area.
Tesla Autopilot Automated Driving System: Benefits
In everyday commuting, there are several key benefits that I use when using Tesla Autopilot:
- Tesla ADS in my Model S automatically takes turns and exits highways following the navigation without waiting for driver’s confirmation
- Tesla ADS automatically attempts to pass the slow traffic ahead by suggesting a turn to the left or right without driver’s confirmation
- Tesla ADS automatically monitors traffic on both sides of the vehicle and only attempts the turn when traffic has passed
- Tesla ADS automatically steers the car in the middle of the road without driver’s manual input
- Tesla ADS automatically maintains the set speed and distance between vehicles and brakes and accelerates where appropriate
All of the features above make the Tesla Navigate On Autopilot automated driving system rating very close to NHTSA and SAE Level 3.
Tesla Autopilot Automated Driving System: Negatives
No system is perfect and following are the current deficiencies that I have experienced with the Tesla Navigate On Autopilot automated driving system:
- Tesla ADS only supports highways
- Tesla ADS sometimes experiences hesitations when trying to pass other cars. I have experienced the times when ADS was trying several times to turn and pass and turning back again
- The regular and annoying reminders to keep hands on the wheel
- I noticed that Tesla ADS decides to pass the cars in front just because they slow down below the set cruise speed. If the cruise speed is at or below the car in front, the ADS happily follows this car. This is of course a very primitive logic. A more sophisticated logic or machine learning is needed here.
- Tesla ADS is ruthless on the brakes. Autopilot often suddenly slams on brakes. It seems that Tesla Autopilot does not use regenerative braking at all.
The negatives described above make the Tesla Navigate On Autopilot automated driving system rating more close to NHTSA and SAE Level 2.
Is Tesla Autopilot Level 2
Based on the definitions published by both NHTSA and SAE and the benefits and downsides which I have experienced myself and described above, I believe that the Tesla Autopilot with its new Navigate On Autopilot self driving feature is still between Level 2 and Level 3. It is getting very close to Level 3 and with the latest full self driving computer from Tesla, the Tesla ADS shall be close to Level 4 very soon.
I am waiting for the soon to come Tesla Navigate on Autopilot update which should introduce automatic traffic light detection and braking.
I have a special request to Tesla however:
Tesla, Please, Fix the Tesla Autopilot Erratic Slamming on Brakes. Make Autopilot use Regenerative Braking.
What Makes Tesla Autopilot Level 2 Automated Driving System
As I mentioned in this blog, Autopilot is still closer to Level 2 ADS rather than Level 3. This is all due to this annoying alert which I have to deal with on my daily commutes.
Apply slight turning force to steering wheelTesla Autopilot
This Autopilot Alert comes on after around 30 to 40 seconds of inactivity or no pressure applied to the wheel and depending on the speed.
I have one more request to Tesla: