Autopilot is Tesla’s revolutionary technology. It’s the functionality that put autonomous driving systems on the map and showed us what cars can be capable of. But it can be a pretty confusing subject, especially if you’re not up to date on autonomous driving.
So what exactly is autopilot, why is everyone so enthusiastic about it, and why is it so controversial? Here’s our rundown of what Autopilot is, as well as what it can (and more importantly) cannot do.
What exactly is Tesla Autopilot?
Tesla Autopilot is what is called an autonomous driving assistance system. Simply put, this is a feature that allows a Tesla to “see” the cars and the road around it, and to drive itself to a certain extent.
This doesn’t mean that autopilot is capable of turning a Tesla into a fully autonomous, self-driving car. The system is useful, but still very limited, and requires an attentive driver to be able to take control at all times. This is despite the name ‘Autopilot.’
What the autopilot can do
Basic autopilot is a system that is fitted as standard on every modern Tesla. This system includes some very basic features that allow the Tesla to automatically accelerate to a preset speed, brake for other vehicles or pedestrians it sees ahead, as well as minimal steering to keep your car centered. in a lane.
This Tesla Autopilot System is designed to “help with the hardest parts of driving,” that is, traveling long distances on highways and similar roads. These cars are also equipped with emergency braking, collision alerts, blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. Importantly, the latter feature only controls acceleration and braking, leaving the driver to steer.
Complete autonomous driving is an optional supplement, available only as a $ 10,000 add-on or $ 200 per month subscription for Model S and Model X pilots in the United States. It is essentially a more advanced version of the Basic Autopilot system, with more features to help you drive.
The FSD autopilot comes with features like automatic lane change which can handle mergers, exits and overtakes, as well as something called “navigate on autopilot” which can take you off the ramp. ‘access to the exit ramp during your trip. FSD also has an automatic parking system, recognition of traffic lights and stop signs, as well as a “summon” function, which allows your car to exit a parking space and directly to you.
FSD is also getting a feature that activates the Autosteer on city streets, which Tesla says will arrive later this year. However, it is not known exactly when.
Improved autopilot is also something you may have heard of, although it is not available in the United States. The enhanced autopilot is essentially a middle-of-the-road option for some regions, like the UK, which gives you plenty of FSD features for a fraction of the price.
The enhanced autopilot includes automatic lane change, autopark, summon, and the ‘Navigate Autopilot’ feature, but does not include recognition of traffic lights or stop signs. Judging by the UK Model S order page it will also not include Autosteer on city streets when this feature launches.
What Tesla Autopilot Cannot Do
The most important thing to remember about autopilot is that it doesn’t turn your Tesla into a self-driving car. Even though it appears to be the case, Autopilot is still classified as a Level 2 Autonomous Driving System and many of its features are still in beta. A fully autonomous car, which has no option for driver input, is classified as a level 5 system. So far, these cars are not available for purchase.
In Tesla’s own words, the system can “do the wrong thing at the worst time” and is not able to handle all situations the same way an experienced human driver would.
For example, during my time on autopilot, the system seemed to have trouble recognizing that cars in other lanes weren’t directly ahead. On more than one occasion, the Tesla Model 3 applied the brakes because it saw the car in an adjacent lane start to slow down quite quickly.
On more than one occasion, the Tesla I was driving did the same thing, thinking there was a semi-truck crossing the highway. In fact, there was a bend in the road the trucks were following. The autopilot ignored the curve, despite the markings on the ground, and applied the brakes.
So despite the name suggesting Autopilot means a Tesla can drive on its own, it’s not a foolproof system you should place all your trust in. Not right away anyway.
So why is it called Autopilot?
While the average person may understand the term “autopilot” as something completely autonomous, Tesla Elon Musk claims it differently.
Musk says the autopilot was named after the autopilot system used in airplanes, which lightens the burden on human pilots but does not replace them. So while autopilot requires an attentive human pilot in the cockpit, autopilot requires a human driver at the wheel.
However, that hasn’t stopped people from assuming that Autopilot is capable of doing all the work for them. There have been several instances where people have been pulled over and stopped because they were not in the driver’s seat when the autopilot was activated. Some irresponsible people have even been caught sleeping in the backseat.
Tesla has been criticized for the kind of language he uses when it comes to autopilot. Last year a German court ruled that the name “autopilot”, as well as other marketing materials, were misleading as they suggested that a Tesla could drive on its own.
And it’s not just Germany. Back 2018, two U.S. consumer rights groups, the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog, have urged the FTC to investigate Tesla’s Autopilot marketing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also written to Tesla about his advertisement on autopilot the same year, but referred the matter to the FTC.
At the end of the line
Tesla Autopilot is an exceptionally useful tool, especially for traveling long distances, but it has its limitations. Limits that are worth keeping in mind before taking the driver’s seat and letting the car start to control itself.
Self-driving cars are on the way, and there will be a point where cars can drive people without the need for human intervention. Don’t let semantics give you a bad idea, however. We are still years away from truly autonomous vehicles.