Tesla’s autopilot is designed for driver safety. However, you must not consider it a self driving system which turns your vehicle into a fully automated car. You still need to be attentive and keep your hands on the wheels while you drive. Otherwise the car starts sending you alerts. It is an advanced driver assistance system designed to provide higher level of safety. SAE J3016 has classified it as a level 2 automated system. Tesla is consistently improving its automated driving system and over time it has been able to significantly increase its capabilities. Its external cameras, radar and 12 ultrasonic sensors apart from increasing overall safety, work to reduce driver’s stress and workload.
Tesla autopilot includes a suite of features that drivers will find really useful:
Traffic Aware Cruise Control – As the name suggests this features maintains the car’s speed proportionate to the surrounding traffic. Drivers can engage the cruise control stalk on the left of the steering column in Model S and Model X. In case of Model 3, the gear selector stalk on the right of the steering column offers access to those functions. ‘First pull’ on the stalk engages Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and two successive pulls engage the Autosteer. You will see a grey steering wheel icon on the display when the system is ready to engage.
Autosteer :- A feature that helps drivers steer within a clearly marked lane. While the Autosteer is in use, the driver must keep his hands on the steering wheel or the system starts sending visual alerts. The autosteer feature carries out this function by measuring the torque applied on the steering wheel. If the torque is insufficient, the system alerts the driver to place his hands on the wheels. Drivers cannot ignore these warnings. If they do so repeatedly, they get locked out from using autopilot during the trip. To prevent misuse, the system is designed in a way that the driver cannot use Autosteer when it is not available.
Auto Lane Change: This is a feature to assist drivers with changing lanes to the left or right automatically when autosteer is engaged. Enable ‘Auto Lane Changes’ through the Autopilot Controls menu on the Settings tab to use this feature. While the car is in autosteer, engage the ‘turn signal’ in the direction you want to move.
Navigate on Autopilot – Navigate on Autopilot is an active guidance feature that, makes navigation and driving easier on the highway. Drivers can easily find and follow the most efficient path to their destination while using Autopilot. Enable the feature in the Autopilot Controls menu on the Settings tab to use it and then enter a destination in the navigation system.
Autopark – A feature to help drivers automatically park their vehicle parallel or perpendicular. The car’s speed should be low to use this feature. The display will signal a ‘P’ when your Tesla detects a parking spot. Put the car in reverse and press ‘start’. Autopark will take care of the gear changes, steering angle and speed while it manoeuvres the vehicle to the parking lot.
Summon – A feature to help drivers move their Tesla in and out of parking space using the mobile app or the key from outside the car. Open the Tesla app and press the Summon button and then the forward or reverse button. Model S and Model X owners press the centre of the key fob for three seconds till the hazard lights are on and then press either ‘trunk’ or ‘frunk’ button to summon forwards or reverse.
These autopilot features can be overridden anytime using the steering wheel or by applying brakes or by deactivating from ‘Cruise Control Stalk’.
Tesla cars also include more advanced safety features that are available even to customers who have not bought autopilot. The autopilot hardware and software system which is standard on all Tesla cars makes all these features possible for Tesla customers. These advanced safety features include Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Forward and Side Collision Warning, Obstacle Aware Acceleration, blind spot warnings and several more such useful features.
Hardware & Software
Tesla’s hardware and software used for its autopilot system has evolved over time. Cars, the company made between September 2014 and October 2016 had one camera and less powerful radar and ultra-sonic sensors. The ones that came later are equipped with eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a forward facing radar as well as a powerful computer to process all the data received from these devices in milliseconds. Tesla is working on an AI chip that offers higher computational power. Even if as much processing power is not needed for the AutoPilot to work, it will be a meaningful step towards fully self driving vehicle technology. Tesla has kept improving its cars with software and over the air updates. The company is working to make autopilot even more capable in future. each year, its R&D budget is growing. In 2018, Tesla spent around $1.5 Billion on R&D.