Tesla Motors Inc has released its Autopilot update for the Model S, and the world’s EV owners have already had a couple of days to try out the new feature from Elon Musk’s stable. Most of the reviews so far have been glowing, but a couple of things have stuck out to testers. Watch the hands on video, which explains most of what you need to know about Autopilot, to find out what’s up with Tesla’s system.
In the clip Model S driver David says that the Model S Autopilot doesn’t work properly while driving in town. That’s to be expected of the system. It relies, to a large extent, on reading the markings on the road in order to decide how to keep in lane. The other problem, which doesn’t seem to interfere with the running of the car, is a little more unsettling.
Tesla Motors doesn’t slow down
Apparently the Tesla Motors Model S Autopilot doesn’t slow into turns. David describes the experience as “uncomfortable.” He says that he was heading into a turn at about 45 mph and the car took the turn, with no problems whatsoever, but didn’t reduce speed. Human drivers are so used to slowing down into turns that the experience was a little bit odd for the Model S owner.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the way that the Model S took the turn, but it does highlight one of the major issues that Tesla Motors is going to face as it tries to sell the tech to the world. Letting a car function under its own steam can be, for those unused to it, a very stressful experience.
When a Model S heads into a turn and doesn’t slow down, a driver’s automatic reaction is to worry, because so much of their driving is built right into their muscle memory. When the steering wheel turns itself, a lot of people are going to feel anxious, and that’s going to continue until people get used to the system driving the Model S around.
Tesla Motors Autopilot really works
The system that Tesla Motors debuted on Thursday isn’t perfect, and it’s a very far cry from a car that can drive itself from point to point, but it does work. That’s the most important result for Elon Musk and Tesla Motors after months of Model S owners waiting for the system to update.
As far as anyone who has reviewed it so far knows the Autopilot on the Model S is adept at taking the pressure off on long drives down the highway. It’s not going off road just yet, nor is it going to get a driver through a mountain pass, but it does what Elon Musk promised it would.
You can see that clearly in the video above. The driver keeps his hands off of the wheel, something that Tesla Motors doesn’t really advise drivers do, and the car keeps in lane, and keeps well behind the car in front of him. The Model S isn’t the first car on the road with that sort of system, but that’s not what’s important.
The power feature isn’t that it’s completely new, or that it takes the stress off in certain kinds of driving, it’s what it promises about the future.
Testing Tesla Motors’ hardware
As David says in the above footage, units of the Model S built in September of 2014 or later all have the hardware for Autopilot installed. For a one off payment drivers are able to unlock the power of the system, and get their car to drive itself down the highway, if not on San Francisco’s hills.
It’s not yet clear what the limits on the hardware that Tesla Motors has installed in the Model S are. There’s no limit on the software upgrades that a car can go through, bar perhaps the Tegra 3 processor that powers the Model S, but there is an issue with the kinds of scanners and detectors that the firm has packed into the EV.
If it wants to build an Autopilot system that truly allows freedom while the car does the work, it’s likely that Tesla Motors will have to upgrade the hardware involved. We haven’t heard anything about new sensors, bar the awesome ones on the falcon wing doors, being used on the Model X, so it seems the 2014 Model S is future proof, at least for the time being.
Don’t worry about Autopilot anxiety
When the train arrived people were afraid of it, and with good reason. Most had never seen anything that could move that fast, and certainly nothing with so little apparent human control. The Tesla Motors Model S, and the Autopilot system in particular, is likely to attract the same sort of disdain.
There will be an accident that involves Autopilot. It may come next week, or next year, or on the release of the Model 3, but it will come. It may even relate to a software bug and be Tesla Motors’ fault, but that doesn’t really matter in the long term.
Tesla, under the guidance of CEO Musk, is building a new kind of car world. He may not be the first to make an EV, and he’s not the first to put Autopilot systems in a production car, but he is the first to have the world’s news outlets endlessly talking about those tech leaps.
In Musk’s view, though likely not that of his shareholders, Tesla Motors’ goal is to bring the EV to the world and make a battery powered car a mass market reality. Autopilot with its broad appeal, will likely help the firm to get there.
Right now it’s not able to do much, and there’s very few people whose lives are going to be changed by the system. There are a lot, however, who are going to be bemused and confused and perhaps even made a little bit uncomfortable by Autopilot. That will, in the eyes of those backing Tesla Motors, increase demand for the car and send shares skyward once more.