Scientific American takes a ride with Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot
Self-driving cars have the potential to bring about profound changes to our society, and Tesla is at the forefront of the transition. “Driver assistance” features are steadily creeping into new vehicles, but there’s still a long way to go before full self-driving capability (Level 5 autonomy, as defined by SAE) is ready for the road.
Above: Activating Tesla's Autopilot (Image: Teslarati)
The technical challenge isn’t the only obstacle: in a recent AAA survey, 73 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t want to ride in a self-driving car. Of course, consumer acceptance of autonomy is sure to grow as more people experience it for themselves, and read the reports of others who’ve tested Teslas and other vehicles with autonomous capabilities.
One of those spreading the word is David Pogue, who shared his Autopilot adventures in a recent article in Scientific American. Mr. Pogue recently took delivery of a Model 3, which is currently the most autonomous-capable car on the road (with the possible exception of the Cadillac CT6). He put Model 3’s Enhanced Autopilot through its paces, and seems pretty impressed overall, although he notes that “it’s had some near misses and required some adjustments.”
Above: David Pogue, seen front and center, also evaluates cars for Yahoo Autos (Twitter: David Pogue)
Several higher-end automobiles (including the Clarity PHEV Touring that I recently tested) now offer something approaching Level 2 autonomy. They can sort of drive themselves on the highway, automatically staying in their lane and adjusting their speed to traffic. Personally, I’ve found these systems in the cars I’ve driven (several models from Honda, Toyota and Lexus) to be inconsistent and unpredictable - Tesla’s Autopilot, while not perfect, is far superior. Pogue would seem to agree - he describes the capabilities of Model 3, which has 8 video cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a front radar, as “about Level 2.3.”
“If you put on your turn signal, the Tesla watches for an opportunity, accelerates if necessary and then smoothly changes lanes, all by itself,” Pogue writes. “If you’re exiting, it eases onto the ramp and slows down. (Ingeniously, it knows how much to slow down based on the behavior of Tesla owners who have taken that ramp before you.) Enhanced Autopilot also knows to slow down on a curve, can recognize pedestrians and bicycles, and can slam on the brakes to avoid a collision.”
Above: A look at Tesla's "Enhanced Autopilot" capabilities (Youtube: Tesla)
“The manual teems with warnings,” Pogue notes, “especially this one: you still have to pay attention. In my Tesla, if it notices your hands have been off the wheel for too long (three minutes in most situations), the screen shows increasingly frantic warnings. If you ignore them, Autopilot shuts off for the rest of your trip, punishing you for your carelessness. If there’s still no response from you, Autopilot activates the hazard blinkers and slowly stops. If you’ve fallen asleep or taken ill, that’s a much better outcome than crashing.”
Pogue says Autopilot has saved him from a couple of near misses, but also given him a couple of scares. “Its self-driving maneuvers are generally graceful, but I’ve experienced a few bafflingly jolty ones. On balance, though, I’m convinced that Autopilot makes me safer. It takes care of fussy, mechanical operations, leaving you to focus on larger-level issues, like what’s around you or what your next turn should be. By off-loading the second-by-second, fight-or-flight decisions, you’re free to destress a little, making driving less fatiguing and more pleasant.”
Written by: Charles Morris; Source: Scientific American; Editor's Note: Enhanced Autopilot just received another exciting update — the much-anticipated, new Navigate on Autopilot feature is currently rolling out to Tesla owners.