Tesla Model S + Autopilot

Self-driving Tesla, Model S with Autopilot

Tesla’s sleek and smooth Model S sedan already has the look and feel that high-level executives who want to make a statement expect, and the car’s all-electric torque and “I care” green-cred just add volume to that statement. Now, Tesla hopes to make its Model S even more appealing to the jet-set, with the addition of a very “G6” autopilot feature.

Fledgling automaker Tesla has developed a reputation as a serious innovator ever since the Silicon Valley startup’s founder, Elon Musk, stuffed a Lotus Elise full of laptop batteries and branded it as his own. This latest bit of news, however, is innovation that Musk believes will keep his car company ahead of fellow Silicon Valley innovators at Google.

Google autonomous Prius

Unlike Google, whose self-driving “autonomous” cars don’t require a driver behind the wheel in order to operate, Musk says his system will be more akin to the autopilot function in commercial and private airplanes, which allow the pilot to set a given altitude or speed, for example. “I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self-driving,” he said. “Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”

How this translates to cars is anyone’s guess, at this point, but I’d put my money on a combination of lane-sensing alerts, adaptive cruise control, and the sort of blind-spot awareness we covered earlier today that will be working together, in concert, to produce a cruise control program that’s capable of keeping a safe distance behind certain cars, checking for space in adjacent lanes, and executing a pass. Safety systems like Volvo’s Cycle Safety could also be used in the same way Volvo’s self-driving trucks use them, adapted to check for obstacles in the car’s path and alert the driver that it’s time to take over.

Pretty exciting stuff, no?

According to Plug-in Cars’ Nikki Gordon, there are other benefits to the system. “With sophisticated enough software, a self-driving car could be even more efficient than it is with a human at the wheel, improving range and eliminating driver-induced range anxiety … self-driving technology and electric cars go hand in hand.” I’ll give you this much, Nikki: autopilot certainly makes electric cars seem cooler!

This is all developing pretty quickly (like, really), and Tesla has pushed updates out to owners before, so stay tuned for a “Hey, Model S owners … your car has this like, now!” autopilot announcement in the coming weeks. (50/50 odds, maybe)


Sources: Tesla, via Plug-in Cars, Gas 2.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.