Tesla Model S Autopilot Report

by Ruoping Lin on Oct 15, 2017

Tesla Motors launched its first mainstream model, Model S, to the market in 2012, which sooner became the most prominent electric vehicle on the industry. As a leading electric vehicle, it is fast and environmentally friendly, but what makes the Model S exciting and astonishing is its full self-driving feature--Autopilot.

Tesla Model S
Source: The Verge

Self-driving is already on the way; the Model S is indeed a primary and affordable choice for us to experience such feature. It has 8 high-resolution cameras surrounded the body to provide 360 degrees of visibility and 250 meters of range. Complementing to what the cameras are able to detect, the Model S also has 12 sensitive and advanced ultrasonic sensors to allow for detecting various types of objects, such as hard objects, soft objects, or round objects. An embedded radar with enhanced data processing utility is capable to see through heavy rain, fog, dust, and even the car ahead. With these data collected together, an onboard computer will process the data and provides a view of the world that far beyond the human senses, thus to enhance the self-driving experience (Thompson).

2017 Tesla Model S
MSRP %68,000
Range 210 to 315 mi battery-only
Horsepower 382 to 691 hp
Curb Weight 4,469 to 4,941 lbs
Self-driving data
Source: Tech Times

The Model S is capable of doing what a driverless car can do mostly. The lane-changing feature is a pioneer; analysts say "the lane-changing feature is an industry first". The Autopilot system will constantly collect data from the surrounding environment, so that it knows how safely the car can navigate a particular bend in road or where traffic signs are located. When trailing another car, the adaptive cruise control has the ability to adjust the speed by itself. It does not sound revolutionary. But, to provide a comfortable driving experience, it also has options to allow the drive to set the trailing distance from "1 car" to "7 cars". When approaching a stop sign, Autopilot will gradually slow down the speed and stop smoothly to act like a good driver. Unlike some other cars with a cruise control system, a Model S driver does not have to touch the brake to come to a full stop nor to tap the accelerator to resume moving (Tencer).

Advanced Sensor Coverage
Rearward Looking Side Cameras Wide Forward Camera Main Forward Camera Narrow Forward Camera
Max distance 100m Max distance 60m Max distance 150m Max distance 250m
Rear View Camera Ultrasonics Forward Looking Side Cameras Radar
Max distance 50m Max distance 8m Max distance 80m Max distance 160m

Since self-driving is not a "stable" technology, meaning that the most suitable algorithm is still under development and test, there are still down side of Autopilot. For example, roadwork is a challenge. In place where a roadwork is going on, and lane markings are often screwy. Such situation may flummox the Autopilot because warning cones can overwrite the sturdy markers by which the car is designed to navigate. As a driver, you can easily tell what you are supposed to, whether to change lanes, to slow down, or to stop, but Autopilot would keep track of the original road markings. "That's why self-driving pioneers like Google and Delphi cite construction as a common reason their human engineers take control of the wheel while testing: The cues designed for human drivers can stump advanced computer systems" (Lee, Marshall).

The cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar all work together to constantly provide a comfortable and safe self-driving experience. However, from a driver's perspective, I would suggest that a self-driving car driver should still be responsive for, and ultimately in control of, the car. What's more, the driver should always have intuitive access to the information that the car is using.