Elon, Take the Wheel! We Test Tesla’s New Autopilot Feature

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Do you habitually dine while driving? Suffer from aggravated road-texting syndrome? Have yet to master Bluetooth communication skills? If so, you are a clinically distracted driver and a prime candidate for a Tesla Model S—now that the company has rolled out its new Autopilot feature.

As part of its continuous-improvement policy, every Model S manufactured after September 2014 is equipped with Autopilot hardware, the closest thing on the market to fully autonomous driving. That equipment is enabled as of October 8, via an automatic software download, assuming the car’s owner says “yes.” Autopilot provides adaptive cruise control, automatic hands-free lane keeping (Autosteer), on-demand lane changing (Auto Lane Change), automatic—hands and feet off—parallel parking (Autopark), and 360-degree collision warning (Side Collision Warning). (Adaptive cruise control and low-speed collision warning have been operational in Model S cars equipped with 6.0 software since the fall of 2014.)



Tesla charges a one-time fee of $2500 to activate the Autopilot capability, but the Side Collision Warning is free.

A select group of Tesla owners have enjoyed use of the alpha version of Autopilot for a month. What the rest of us are receiving is the 7.0 beta version upgraded with user feedback and the latest engineering changes. A new digital instrument cluster and center touch-screen displays with the necessary operating menus, driving icons, and warning symbols are also part of this upgrade.

The system consists of a dozen ultrasonic sensors, half of which wrap discreetly around each end of the car in the bumper fascias; one forward-looking camera positioned behind the windshield between the rear-view mirror and the roof header; and a radar sensor located in a low-center position in the grille. Servos and controllers steer the front wheels, apply the brakes, and command the drive motor(s).

The new driver’s display is also updated with an analog clock, outside temperature display, tire-pressure information, seatbelt warnings, and door-close status. Trip- and energy-monitoring apps are also updated. Some information appears automatically when necessary, other data can be called up with a switch located on the right steering-wheel spoke.



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