tesla autopilot

Tesla Autopilot Technology - Are we ready?

What is Tesla Autopilot?

The race to fully automate a vehicle has been on for quite a while amongst the various automobile manufactures. While, the technology has been around for a couple of years, it’s still kind of new and scary when your life is in hand. A recent crash involving the Tesla Model S has literally scared Americans of the technology.

A couple weeks ago, I visited a Tesla store at a local mall and checked out the Tesla Model S in person. And let me tell you, it’s an Ipad on wheels! I mean everything is touchscreen controlled, from the radio to the doors. I’m not a big fan of electric vehicles, however, in the future I believe electric vehicles will replace all gas vehicles, whether or not I like it. Even though I love gas-guzzling sports cars, I can’t help but welcome the new electric cars because of the cutting-edge technology that the manufacturers incorporate.

Tesla’s “technology package,” or more commonly known as Autopilot is just that — Tesla’s attempt at making the future car a reality. Due to Tesla’s Autopilot (and autosteer specifically), vehicles that can stay in the lane, and steer for your, aren’t just futuristic sci-fi, they are prowling the streets today!

tesla autopilot crash
Ipad on wheels!

The Auto-Steering technology being used by Tesla is still (Beta), meaning it’s still being worded on. According to Tesla, the AutoSteer feature incorporates “a variety of measures including steering angle, steering rate and speed to determine the appropriate operation.” While AutoSteer technology isn’t fully automatic, it assists the driver on the road, making the driving experience easier. Key word here is assist. Driving without using your hands is ILLEGAL in the United States.

When Tesla rolled out it’s technology package upgrade to 7.0, and introduced the autopilot feature, people went crazy with the YouTube videos. Look, no hands! Now only if the car manufactures would focus on making flying cars. Weren’t we already supposed to have them by 2016? lol.

How does Tesla Autopilot work?

The latest software update, 7.0 allows Model S to use its unique combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, Model S scans for a parking space and parallel parks on your command. — tesla.com

The Tesla Autopilot feature was incorporated via an upgrade that was released by the manufacturer in Fall of 2015. The Autopilot feature uses various sensors and cameras positioned in front and the rear of the car to control speed, braking and the ability to park and turn the vehicle. The car functions much like an Arduino robot designed to stay “in a box” or “follow a line“. The robots use sensors to “see” the line, and use that data to stay on the line.

tesla autopilot crash 3

The Tesla Model S with the Technology Package upgrade features 12 ultrasonic sensors, positioned around the vehicle. The sensors feed the Tesla autopilot system feature a 360 picture of what’s going on around the vehicle. They are also used to auto park the vehicle in available parking spots, and to avoid collisions when changing lanes.

So when driving on I-95, you can take your hands off the wheel (even though Tesla advises against it), and the Tesla Model S will actually steer the car for you. There is a front-mounted camera which the autopilot feature utilizes to keep the car in the lane, while detecting other objects around it.

Tesla Autopilot Fallbacks

tesla autopilot crash video

Although Tesla’s Autopilot feature is just plain ol’ awesome, it does have it’s fall backs, as we know from the recent accident that killed a driver. A preliminary investigation has been started regarding the Tesla autopilot crash. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated that the crash involved a “2015 model S operating in self-driving mode.” The man believed to have slammed into the side of a “box” truck at highway speeds. The Tesla’s autopilot system failed to detect the truck as it suddenly turned in front of the driver. The investigation may force Tesla to do a recall on the Model S. Tesla stated that it is the “first known fatality from 130 million miles in autonomous operation in autopilot.

That being said, Tesla does remind it’s drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, even when using autopilot. Sensors aren’t perfect (the data that they collect can be inaccurate), and responses to the sensor data have to be manually coded in my human hands, much like a robot that follows a line using Arduino and sensors.

Since the Tesla’s autopilot feature senses the lines on the road, what happens when there is no line? or if the line is faded? The question then becomes, how was the car programmed to handle such situations in autonomous mode? As you can see, the road structure can greatly influence the ability of the Tesla to see what’s around it.

Investigators believe that the shape of the box truck that the Tesla collided with was also unique, in that it was not detected by the front sensors. The Tesla Model S T-boned the truck, killing the driver. I can see how something like this can occur too. The sensors may not have been aimed high enough for them to see the truck’s side.

If the sensors were coded to sense the car in front, how high do the sensors reach? If the back bumper of a truck is, for example, 4 feet off the ground, would the sensors on the Tesla detect the truck? Or are they only designed to detect an object that starts from the ground up to 3 feet high? Is it possible that the sensor may have malfunctioned?

All these questions, and more need to be answered regarding the Tesla autopilot crash.

Tesla Autopilot Crash Video:

Tesla autopilot crash video


In conclusion, Tesla’s autopilot system is a great technological advancement. We are a step closer to flying vehicles, and I am excited! However, there are a lot of questions we need to answer regarding the safety due to the Tesla autopilot crash that occured recently. That being said, Tesla released the autopilot system as an assist and only an assist. Assist meaning that it helps you drive, not drive for you. There’s a huge difference.

That being said, if the driver didn’t have a Tesla equipped with autopilot, would the drivers reaction time have been quick enough to apply the breaks and avoid the crash? As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into determining what exactly happened in the Tesla autopilot crash. Investigators are now looking at a “blackbox”, much like those contained in Boeing airplanes, that the Tesla comes equipped with. The blackbox will provide the investigators with much needed data that may help them analyze what exactly happened in the Tesla autopilot crash. A lot will be uncovered by this investigation in the weeks to come.

See Tesla’s article regarding the Crash: A tragic loss

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