I’ve been rather harsh on Tesla’ Autopilot system in the past. Admittedly, my criticism lies more with the bombastic claims of an ego-maniac rather than the technology itself. As a system, Autopilot is quite clever. It isn’t finished yet and it isn’t perfect. But it’s about as good as it gets at the moment. It’s capable of doing more and driving autonomously in more situations than most systems that are even in testing at the moment. So there’s really no beef with the technology coming from me.
One of the more impressive parts of Autopilot, which is a feature on more than just Teslas, is its ability to “see” two cars ahead. Using advanced radar sensors and front-facing cameras, the Tesla is able to sort of see not just the car in front of it but the car in front of that one as well. So if a car, two cars ahead, brakes hard, the Tesla will know it before the car immediately in front brakes. This allows the Tesla to be ready to brake hard if necessary, therefore giving it even more time to avoid a collision.
We get to see this in action in this video below. Now, there are many websites claiming the clairvoyance of Autopilot for being able to start braking before the collision that happens in front of it. However, it’s really quite simple. I mean, kudos to Autopilot for avoiding the crash, but there’s no mysticism at work, here.
— Hans Noordsij (@HansNoordsij) December 27, 2016
In the video, you can clearly see the brake lights of the SUV ahead of the red car and traffic stop before the red car hits the SUV. The Tesla saw this as well, using advanced radar sensors, as it new that SUV has dramatically slowed down and maybe even stopped. It also knew that the red car ahead was approaching that SUV very quickly and was likely to crash. Subsequently, it knew that it had to slow down itself or else it, too, would crash. So it’s not that hard to understand the capabilities of the system, which are, indeed, impressive.
Now, if my memory serves me correctly, Infiniti was the first premium brand to have such a system. So it’s nothing new to Tesla. In fact, several brands currently have advanced autonomous braking of this nature and there have probably been dozens of instances where this sort of thing has happened to various different cars already. But when it happens to a Tesla, it’s clairvoyance, of course.
However, despite the tiresome media ego-stroking of Tesla, this unfortunate incident does provide hope to the future of autonomous systems. That’s a pretty complex situation that the Autopilot system was able to observe and figure out in a matter of milliseconds. BMW is banking on these sorts of system for it future as well, as the Bavarian brand plans on having a fully autonomous car by 2021. While it’s nothing new, for a car to have advanced autonomous braking that can see two cars ahead, seeing this video does give us hope for the future of the autonomous car.