Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hand-free driving? Tesla’s Autopilot System

In, October 2014, Tesla Motors started equipping its Model S with hardware such as a forward radar and a forward-looking camera with an eye toward self-driving. A year later, Tesla released its Tesla Version 7.0 software, retrofitting the 2014 hardware with an autopilot system. Tesla’s autopilot allows the Model S to: “to steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control. Digital control of motors, brakes, and steering helps avoid collisions from the front and sides, as well as preventing the car from wandering off the road. Your car can also scan for a parking space, alert you when one is available, and parallel park on command.”

            This all sounds great. But what if something were to go wrong? Imagine you were driving your Model S. You instruct the car to change lanes, but you notice it will crash into a car in the desired lane. Fear not: by touching the brakes or yanking the steering wheel, you override the autopilot system and regain complete control of the car. Meanwhile, the car logs the incident -what happened and the driver’s subsequent response- and sends this data back to Tesla in realtime. Tesla immediately beams the data to all other Tesla autopilot cars on the road, ensuring that no Tesla car makes that same mistake again. Truly, Teslas constantly learn and improve.

            This past January, Tesla updated its software with Version 7.1, which offers a range of new features. The update includes Summon, an incredible feature that completes the auto-drive experience. Using Summon, you can instruct your Model S to open the garage door and park itself; alternatively, the car can start itself and exit the garage on its own. The newest update also prevents the use of autopilot mode in residential areas, in response to online videos showing drivers using the autopilot feature in dangerous situations.
            Like most innovation, there are pros and cons. The most obvious gain is that the car is constantly learning by adding not only to its database, but the collective database for all Tesla Model S cars—making the experience safer for all owners. Moreover, the updates are sent via internet so an owner needn’t visit a dealership or schedule a visit from a technician. Of course, you do need an internet connection: no internet, no update. The main con is that autopilot isn’t perfect. Occasionally, the Model S will try to turn or change lanes when it shouldn’t. So, as a driver, you have to be aware and ready to take control of the car without warning. On some level, that vigilance defeats the purpose of being auto-driven. Overall, however, this technology is a remarkable step; given time, Tesla cars will continue to learn and improve. If Tesla’s current rate of innovation is any indicator, further enhancements are right around the corner. Though fully autonomous cars are still a thing of the future, Tesla has changed today’s playing field.




  1. Tesla is a brand often associated with the future. Not long ago, self driving cars were simply a dream. In 2016 Tesla Motors is making it a reality. Tesla's model S could soon be on the road driving itself. What is really interesting about the technology is that it is always "learning". The universal database for Tesla is constantly gathering information and improving itself. If I was an investor this aspect was would be a very intriguing because the stock of Tesla would be on a upwards trajectory because of the self-improving technology that Tesla operates. Though this technology is incredible it is a little scary. If cars start driving themselves the room for human complacency grows. There is still great responsibly on the operator of the vehicle and should the technology malfunction (which can happen any time) the public is in danger and Tesla could face great legal troubles.

  2. Tesla has really changed the game with their over-the-air updates that has enabled of the software updates such as version 7.1. Like you mentioned, since Tesla cars are ultimately one big computer, Tesla is able to constantly make adjustments to improve and alter their product. The auto-pilot is a very useful function that helps reduce driver fatigue on the highway. Like you mentioned you still have to be alert because the car is not perfect. I have seen videos where drivers who engaged in autopilot are very nervous and hesitant to rely on the car to make decisions for itself. Additionally, I read that the sensors that help the car drive itself have trouble adjusting when the road conditions change or if the lines are not clearly visible. With the Summon feature, I've heard that since it has the capabilities of moving the car up to 33 feet from where it was parked. People have been concerned with the car driving itself out of shorter driveways and into the street where it is vulnerable to get hit if people are not careful and set the right distance. Overall, I think that Tesla is ahead of the game with their advancement in the autonomous car industry and soon we will all be passengers in autonomous vehicles.


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