What’s it like to drive a Tesla with Autosteer enabled? Ever since Tesla began downloading it Version 7.0 software with Autosteer last week, the internet has been flooded with videos showing Model S sedans being driven with no hands on the wheel. In one fell swoop, Tesla has leapfrogged the entire auto industry when it comes to autonomous driving technology, forcing every other car maker to play catch up. Below is a video taken last week in New York City. If you thought Autosteer was only for use on the highway, think again. Unless and until the company modifies the software, the system can be activated at any speed above 5 mph.
Is it a little spooky to see a car driving itself? Watching the steering wheel move like it was possessed by spirits makes me a little queasy. Perhaps it is just that we are always suspicious of the unknown. After all, that was really the message behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Will peaceful villagers soon be chasing Teslas down the street, brandishing pitchforks?
I remember the first time I drove in a car in a former British colony. I was in a taxi leaving the airport on Eleuthera. A car was approaching from the other direction and I kept waiting for the drivers to veer back into their proper travel lanes. They never did, of course, but it gave me a bad scare the first time it happened. How long will it be before we become indifferent to cars driving themselves around without a human hand on the accelerator, the brake pedal or the steering wheel? Days, weeks, months?
Here’s another video of a Tesla Model S with Autopilot active negotiating a turn in the road. Is this spooky or what?
Recently, Matt McFarland of the Washington Post got to take a drive in a Google autonomous driving Lexus 450h on public roads and a Google car on private property. He reported he was much more comfortable in the car with no pedals or steering wheel than he was in the modified street car. Driving in a car with no controls is sort of like being in the front seat of a subway train. We have no expectation of control, and so we are not anxious about it. On the other hand, McFarland was weirded out by watching the steering wheel in the Lexus moving on its own.
It’s all a matter of perception, of course. When you come right down to it, that yellow line down the center of the road is not going to do much good if a loaded cement mixer decides to cross into your lane. Also, we know that most of the other drivers on the road are not nearly as smart as we are, yet we trust them to go, stop and steer appropriately without slamming into us.
99% of the driving experience is about mutual trust. Lots of people will have no faith in these newfangled gadgets until society has a lot more experience dealing with them. The first time a self-driving Tesla gets into an accident, it will be international news no matter who is at fault. There is a trial lawyer somewhere who is already salivating at the prospect of bringing the first personal injury case against Tesla.
As marvelous (and scary) as Tesla Autopilot is, its true genius is its ability to gather data from every car in the world to build a sophisticated database available exclusively to Tesla drivers. There must be car company executives around the world who are just waking up to the reality of what Tesla has done — and sending out for more aspirin.
What’s your opinion of Tesla’s Autopilot? Please share you thoughts with us in the Comments section below.