Autonomous Vehicles

Published on July 1st, 2017 | by Zachary Shahan


Where Tesla Autopilot Truly Shines

July 1st, 2017 by  

As I noted after my first long-ish drive with Tesla Autopilot (version 1 hardware), there are certain things in highway traffic that at this stage make me nervous about Autopilot. Technically, it works very well, but it easily lulls a human driver into complacency, and it’s easy to get kicked out of autosteer while adaptive cruise control remains on … and then not realize autosteer is off because adaptive cruise control + the steady, smooth, heavy feel of the Model S make you feel like the car is driving itself.

But my next and much longer drive on Autopilot (from Wroclaw to Berlin) demonstrated to me two places in which Autopilot is brilliantly lovable. These, imho, are the situations in which Autopilot is like collecting mushrooms in Mario Bros.

The first situation: on long stretches of highway with no or almost no cars in sight. There were some long stretches of highway like this from Wroclaw to Berlin. Autopilot worked perfectly and let me relax my right leg, back, and mind a bit. I stayed attentive (I think), with my hands on the wheel, but the driving experience was much nicer than it would have been. And I imagine it was also more safely travelled.

The adaptive cruise control was a big part of the help, but the autosteer was a boon as well.

The second situation: on frustratingly slow stop-and-go traffic. There’s a significant stretch of highway entering Berlin from the southeast where the highway was recently narrowed to one lane while they repave the other lane. This road work led to completely stopped traffic on parts of what should be a fast highway. I was delayed about 40 minutes there, often sitting completely still — and that wasn’t even rush hour! Thankfully, Autopilot took away some of the physical and mental stress. It works wonderfully in stop-and-go traffic.

Of course, as usual, you should remain attentive if you find yourself using Autopilot in such a situation, but my experience was that Autopilot was a master of the stop-and-go crawl.

There was one tiny quirk I noticed, and it ironically relates to the jerkiness of a gas or diesel car. The cars in front of me were often a bit jerky as the changed from stopped to moving a few miles an hour, and the Tesla copied them since it was eager to get up to normal speed but adapts to the speed of the car in front to avoid a crash.

It wasn’t very noticeable, but it was a bit jerkier than I think I would have accelerated and slowed on my own. Perhaps I could have lowered my targeted cruising speed to 5 km/hr or so to avoid this ICE copycat non-hypermiling, but I didn’t think about it at the time … and I’m actually not sure if you can set cruise control to such a low speed.

In any case, Autopilot is absolutely golden on clear highways and stop-and-go traffic. It’s no wonder so many people want it.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

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