The review of the Tesla Autopilot

Autopilot in action, showing you cars around yours

There are many reviews of the Tesla Autopilot, and when I reviewed the Model 3 I left off Autopilot for a more thorough review.

Since then, though, Elon Musk made declarations that he was "certain" that Tesla would release "full self driving" in a "feature complete" mode this year, and that you would be able to fall asleep next year, regulators willing.

So now I offer not simply a review of Autopilot, which is pretty good as a driver assist product, but the robocar developer's view of whether it's good enough to make such bold predictions.

The TL;DR answer -- it's not. Not even close.

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See why and read my new Robocar specialist's review of the Tesla Autopilot


The only thing I can hope for, in terms of Tesla, is that there's a lot of development that's going on behind the scenes, and only being tested in shadow mode.

Even then, I don't think anyone will meet the promises of Musk at the times he claims them. Nearly every day I drive, and at least once or twice a week, I come across a situation and wonder how a self-driving car would handle it. And not just how it would handle it, but why. Did someone program that scenario in, or is there an Asimov-like set of basic principles used to figure out what to do when encountering new situations.

Hey, Brad finally updated the site's design.

From being 20 years behind the times, it is now just 10 years behind. That is progress!

For someone who crows about having been so early in the Internet ('the first dot-com'), Brad sure had a hard time getting his website(s) past the 90s.

This is actually a fairly modern drupal theme. Turns out it's hard to find a good one that is responsive (ie. reacts to screen width and type) but also doesn't keep the text in a very narrow column all the time, even on big screens.

It sounds like "full self-driving" is going to be what may be the most advanced ADAS yet, with lanekeeping, adaptive cruise control, navigate on autopilot, traffic light awareness, autopark, and an extensive array of locations where all of this is implemented.

They also list summon "anywhere in a parking lot." I'm a bit skeptical about the "anywhere" part. From your article it sounds like the Tesla's sensors don't properly detect obstacles above a certain height, which might include something sticking off the back end of a truck in a parking lot. Maybe they'll figure it out though, either because the ultrasonic sensors do reach that high or because they can get an adequate 3D model of that area with the multiple cameras.

Apart from the summon "anywhere" bin a parking lot, it seems quite possible that they'll be able to release that. Traffic light awareness that's right 98% or 99% of the time is something I'm sure they could have developed through their billion miles of shadow driving plus a relatively limited amount of live testing.

98% of the time (or even 99.999% of the time) doesn't cut it for the extravagant claims Musk was making (sleep in the car, cross-country summon with no one in the car). But he'll just blame the regulators for the fact that you can't do that. (Which, of course, is dangerous in addition to being dishonest.)

It'll be interesting to see if traffic light awareness is done as a crash-avoidance system even in non-autonomous mode. Probably not because there are some times when you need to override a traffic light (police direction, ambulance behind you). But it would be nice if we could figure out a way to do that. Especially nice would be if my car was aware that I wasn't going to make it through a yellow light and hit the (mostly regenerative) brakes for me. I could have saved a red-light camera ticket or two. (Maybe they'll put red-light ticket savings in their ridiculous "after savings" figures.)

Actually, I wrote that view a week ago but it got delayed giving Tesla a chance to respond. And yes, they are using "full" in a very different sense than I, and most people would use it.

Parking lot operations are easier because you can go really slow. Previous summon used only the ultrasonics which definitely have limited height and resolution issues, one presumes this will include the cameras.

Hopefully it includes the cameras. From one review I've read, it sounds like you have to hold the button down the whole time, and you're supposed to keep it in view the whole time. Which to me sounds like "anywhere" is false advertising.

Something else I noticed (didn't notice it the first time, is that full-self-driving costs $8,000, not $5,000). They list it at $5,000 but I didn't notice it says you have to pay for autopilot ($3,000) too. So $43,000 for the base model with "full-self-driving." Which is tempting, but still a bit too expensive for me. Maybe in a few years. I hope the price stays the same (or lower) after they get the features more perfected.

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