Tesla’s Autopilot System is one step ahead of the game

Interesting | October 16th, 2015 by 18
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When great minds think alike, some of the best work gets done. It’s much easier for two minds to work on the same project when …

When great minds think alike, some of the best work gets done. It’s much easier for two minds to work on the same project when they are both in sync with what the other is doing. And that philosophy goes into Tesla’s Autopilot system, which makes it possibly the best on the market right now.

Autopilot systems like Tesla’s aren’t new, so this isn’t some groundbreaking technology that the world has never seen before, though if you ask Tesla fans, it is. The Tesla Model S uses the array of sensors it’s already had, since 2014, to understand the world around it and drive along on its own and accelerate, brake and steer all on its own. It will even change lanes on its own, so long as the driver uses the indicator first and it will then change lanes when it deems it safe. This technology first became popular on the most recent Mercedes-Benz S Class and is now used by BMW, Audi, Cadillac and other automakers. So the technology isn’t new. However, Tesla does do a couple of things a bit different that helps out quite a bit.

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The first difference between Tesla’s system and other competitor’s is something you’ll notice right away and is probably the most helpful — a massive visual display of the Autopilot system. The display shows your car along with the car in front of it and the distance between the two. This allows you to get a visual of what the car and its sensors see which, if you’re a control freak like me, gives you peace of mind that the car sees what it needs to see. Tesla’s Autopilot also gives a “fluid-line” graphic around the Tesla on the display which shows how close near objects are to the Tesla. It’s nice to be able to see what the car sees, as opposed to just trusting the system, this way both the driver’s and the car’s minds are aware of what’s happening. Great minds (I’m assuming) thinking alike.

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Another interesting feature of Tesla’s Autopilot system is that it doesn’t require the driver to have their hands on the steering wheel. The systems in BMWs and Mercedes’ require the driver to keep at least one hand on the wheel or the cars will turn their systems off. The cars will often allow the drive to remove their hands for seconds at a time, but will be prompted to return their mitts to the wheel or else the car will return under driver control. The point of this is to not abdicate the responsibility of the driver. But Tesla’s Autopilot allows the driver to keep their hands in their lap and not touch a single control until they absolutely have to, in which case the Tesla will prompt its driver to take control because they must do something the Autopilot is incapable of doing. So it works well.

This Autopilot system, according to Tesla’s enigmatic owner, Elon Musk, is still in its Beta form, so there will be some more work done to it and in its final form, expect hands to be required on the wheel. This is likely to be done do by Tesla’s lawyers, as there is probably some strange legal liability concerns with allowing the car to drive without hands on the wheel. Or maybe Musk’s lawyers are good enough to allow for such luxuries, who knows, Musk is usually capable of some legal trickery.

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This Autopilot system does need some fine tuning, as it is still in Beta form, and will get that tuning soon. The system still cannot account for traffic lights or stop signs. It’s perfectly fine in traffic, as the cars in front of the Tesla that stop for traffic lights will prompt the Tesla to stop. But if the Tesla is i front of the line, it won’t notice the traffic light turning red and the driver will have to take over. Minor gripe, obviously, but it would be nice to know that the car can save your ass if you take your eyes off the road for one second and the light turns red. It also tends to get a bit too close to very large vehicles, like trucks. But these are all easy fixes and will most likely be fixed quite soon. Remember, this is still a Beta.

While Tesla’s Autopilot isn’t a revolutionary idea, it is probably one of the best autonomous driving systems on the market. The idea of using sensors to basically drive the car through traffic has been around for a couple of years now, in some shape or form, but Tesla’s system is very well polished and uses a very helpful graphic display that helps the driver understand what’s happening in real time. So while Tesla’s Autopilot isn’t revolutionary, it is evolutionary and will probably set the standard for the industry. The graphic display is most likely something that will be adopted by other automakers. Audi and Mercedes-Benz already have excellent graphic gauge cluster displays they can utilize, while BMW will probably have to adopt one to use a similar display. Either way, Tesla’s new Autopilot adds some fresh ideas to the technology and should set the new standard in the industry.

18 responses to “Tesla’s Autopilot System is one step ahead of the game”

  1. Pluto is a Planet says:

    Also to note is that the system will be continuously improving, using data from when drivers take over the wheel to map out where the real lanes are. There’s nothing like this on the market today, mostly because other carmakers don’t have built-in mobile data/internet services.

    • steven75 says:

      Incorrect, most luxury brands have do have built-in mobile data on most of their cars.

      • Pluto is a Planet says:

        Built-in, standard? But regardless, that’s a main reason why other automakers wouldn’t be capable of something like this. Another reason is they aren’t so service-oriented like Tesla is. Everyone knows about Tesla’s supercharging network, but no other manufacturer has announced anything like it for their future electric cars. I’m not aware of any other car manufacturers that offer OTA updates for firmware either, or manufacturers with mobile apps that allow you to get notifications from your car. Really the next step in the right direction for car makers would be providing realtime mapping, which I don’t think any do. As a matter of fact I’ve heard car makers charge you a lot just to update gps data yearly.

        • steven75 says:

          Yes, some have data integration standard.
          Yes, some do OTA updates but usually in very restricted ways–nothing like an entire UI update.
          Yes, few do OTA map updates.
          Yes, other EVs have apps with built-in notifications.
          Telsa is the only one I know of with a dedicated charging network.

          The point being Tesla PR is excellent at bringing awareness considering others have the things you mentioned and yet almost no one knows about it. Also Tesla does a much better job so far of integrating these things into a useful product.

  2. Darko says:

    Tesla’s system is in fact a completely new technology – the cars continually learn by the real-time wireless connections between all cars in the fleet and the data center – which other carmakers have that feature now?

    • It is true that Teslas regularly get OTA updates and this will help its system improve, but the technology, however impressive, isn’t new. The software and OTA updates is something Tesla does different, but the actual technology behind the system is essentially the same as what’s been in most modern high-end luxury cars for a year or two now.

      • Pluto is a Planet says:

        Teslas get OTA updates for firmware, AND separately realtime updates for areas that car sensors don’t work well. These problem areas are determined by when the driver interrupts autosteering and corrected by analyzing the paths drivers take in these areas (using precise GPS data). When there are enough data points (provided by enough drivers in the area), cars going through that area will rely on lane paths downloaded in realtime from Tesla.

  3. Immanuel Vinke says:

    As good as this tech might be… I am just curious whether it will work on motorways in european countries where the speed limit is high or in fact in germany where there is none….
    Will it pull out if there is a car very far behind but approaching with highspeed_?
    Also how predictable for self drivers will a autonomous car be?

    • Pluto is a Planet says:

      I believe there’s a speed limit of 85 or 90 mph for self-steering, but really it’s just lane keeping that’s been added. For these situations you’d need to pay attention around you and use your blinkers to get out of the way accordingly.

  4. Tom says:

    I wonder if the lane change feature will work in stop-and-go traffic where changing lanes requires the ‘kindness’ of others. I suppose you can still signal and just wait until the cars sees an opening.

  5. Efoza says:

    I am surprised by your view that the Tesla tech should set the new standard in the industry. I played with the beta version last week whilst in CA and actuallly numbered 15 acute defects. The margin of error, at present is set at 37% whereas the BMW’s beta version and the Benz’s one which were tested last month in Germany both were set at circa 18-20 % and thus significantly lower and closer to an acceptable deemed 10 % which would make any advancement in this technology viable to go into production.

    As mentioned both BMW and Benz are far better beta versions. Also watch out for the new VW beta version to be tested early next year- that is if they still have the money to pursue such expensive tech and testings!

    • Max says:

      Agree!
      This is just the hype about an overrated company and BMWBLOG is jumping on that train as well, unfortunately. And honestly no one in heavy traffic uses these systems at all, because you would always get cut off when the car keeps its safe distance, except on HOV lanes maybe. Or you don’t have a problem with that and you are so patient that you don’t care about the time loss. IMO it is useful on the lonely roads in the US (and other countries e.g. Australia) but not in states like NJ or in Europe.
      Recently I did a road trip on such lonely roads in the US (route 21, route 50, I15 and more) and even there the people are not even use their cruise control which is basically the start for “autonomous driving”. I don’t understand why everyone is talking about that, when people don’t even use the simplest and easiest helpers they already have today. So why would they use something like that?!

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