Tesla Autopilot is a driver assist feature offered by Tesla, Inc.. The company's stated intent is to offer fully autonomous driving at a future time, acknowledging that legal, regulatory and technical hurdles must be overcome to achieve this goal. Tesla Motors says it expects to enable full self-driving by the end of 2017.
Autopilot was first offered on October 9, 2014, for Tesla Model S, followed by the Model X upon its release. Autopilot was part of a US$2,500 "Tech Package" option. At that time Autopilot features included semi-autonomous drive and parking capabilities. Initial versions of Autopilot were developed in partnership with the Israeli company Mobileye. Tesla and Mobileye ended their partnership in July 2016.
In mid October, 2015, Tesla rolled out software package version 7.0 with Autopilot to US customers. In December 2015, Tesla announced that it will remove some self-driving features to discourage customers from engaging in risky behavior. Autopilot Firmware 7.1 made those changes and includes remote parking technology known as Summon that can park and "unpark" without the driver in the car.
On August 31, 2016, Elon Musk announced Autopilot Firmware 8.0, that processes radar signals to create a coarse point cloud similar to Lidar to help navigate in low visibility conditions, and even to 'see' in front of the car ahead. Autopilot, as of version 8, uses radar as the primary sensor instead of the camera. In November 2016, Autopilot 8.0 updated to have a more noticeable signal that it is engaged and it requires drivers to touch the steering wheel more frequently, otherwise Autopilot will turn off.
As of October 2016, all new Tesla vehicles come with the necessary sensing and computing hardware ("Hardware 2") for future fully autonomous operation (SAE Level 5), with software being made available as it matures. The company offers various free/extra-cost options for enabling Autopilot-associated features/services.
By November 2016, Autopilot had operated actively on hardware version 1.0 vehicles for 300 million miles (500 million km) and 1.3 billion miles (2 billion km) in shadow mode.
The first release of Autopilot on hardware version 2 (HW2) happened in early 2017. It included adaptive cruise control and a limited version of autosteer that was enabled only on divided highways. The second release began in February 2017 and included autosteer on 'local roads’ up to a speed of 35 mph or a specified number of mph over the local speed limit.
Vehicles manufactured after late September 2014 are equipped with a camera mounted at the top of the windshield, forward looking radar (supplied by Bosch) in the lower grill and ultrasonic acoustic location sensors in the front and rear bumpers that provide a 360-degree view around the car. The computer is the Mobileye EyeQ3. This equipment allows Model S to detect road signs, lane markings, obstacles, and other vehicles. Upgrading from Hardware 1 to Hardware 2 is not offered as it would require substantial work.
Hardware 2 (released October 2016) includes an Nvidia Drive PX 2 GPU for CUDA based GPGPU computation (other sources suggest Titan X. Tesla claimed that Hardware 2 provided the necessary equipment to allow full self-driving capability at SAE Level 5. The hardware includes eight surround cameras and twelve ultrasonic sensors, in addition to forward-facing radar with enhanced processing capabilities. Its computer is easily replaceable. The radar was claimed to be able to see beneath the vehicle in front of the Tesla to observe the vehicle in front of that vehicle.
|2016 Enhanced Autopilot/Full Self-Driving Capability
|Radar||Unknown range||160 m (525 ft)|
|Forward Cameras||1 monochrome
|Forward Looking Side Cameras||0||
|Rearward Looking Side Cameras||0||
|Rear View Camera||For human use, not for automation use||50 m (165 ft)|
|Sonars||12 surrounding. 5 m (16 ft).||12 surrounding. 8 m (26 ft)|
|Platform||MobilEye EyeQ3||NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2 AI computing platform|
|2016 Enhanced Autopilot/Full Self-Driving Capability
|Limited Hands-Free On-Ramp to Off-Ramp||Yes, (except when driver wants to change lane).||Yes.|
|TACC-Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (Smart/Adaptive Cruise Control)||Yes||Yes|
|AutoSteer||Yes||Yes, including tighter, more complex roads.|
|Lane Changing||Driver initiates the lane changing signal when the traffic is safe then the system does the rest.||Automatically done all by itself for a faster lane and without driver's judgement nor input.|
|Auto-Park: Parallel and Perpendicular Parking||Yes||Yes|
|Summon (remote automatic car retrieval, including automatic garage door opening and closing)||Yes||Yes|
|Lane Departure Warning||Yes||Yes|
|Full Self-Driving Capability||No. The hardware is not designed for driverless capability.||Yes with additional activation fee (over-the-air).
In addition to above features: Automatically drives itself without a driver and automatically recharges at "cable bot"-equipped Superchargers. Automatic Parking Seek (for an available parking space).
Tesla requires operators to monitor the vehicle at all times, just as the Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to monitor aircraft on autopilot. Autopilot includes multiple capabilities, including adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Tesla expects to enable full self-driving by the end of 2017.
Autopilot-enabled cars receive Autopilot software updates wirelessly, as with other software updates.
HW2 Autopilot has the ability to follow another car, maintaining a safe distance from it as it speeds up and slows down. It can observe a second vehicle in front of the vehicle that it is following. It also slows on tight curves and when a car crosses the road in front of it. It can be enabled at any speed above 17 mph. By default, it sets the limit at the current speed limit plus/minus any driver-specified offset.
Autopark drives the car into a parking spot, while Summon drives it out. Configuration settings control maximum distance, side clearance and bumper clearance. The feature is able to active Homelink to open and close garage doors. The feature is optionally available using the fob and/or the Tesla mobile app.
Autosteer steers the car to remain in whatever lane it is in (lane-keeping). With HW1, It is also able to safely change lanes as directed by a tap of the turn signal. With HW2, lane change is not available and speed is limited to 55 mph on freeways and 35 miles on other roads.
Autopilot alerts the driver under various circumstances, such as a surprising situation on the road or excessive inattention by the driver. If the driver dismisses three audio warnings within an hour, Autopilot is disabled until the car is parked. This is to prevent experienced drivers from excessive reliance on built-in safety features. At speeds under 8 mph on divided highways, Autopilot functions indefinitely without the driver's hands on the wheel. Under 45 mph free hands are allowed for five minutes, unless the car detects lateral acceleration. Above 45 mph free hands is allowed for three minutes if following another vehicle or one minute without.
When Cruise Control is off, Autopilot detects a potential front collision with another vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian within a distance of 525 feet (160 m), it sounds a chime.
Front-facing cameras detect speed limit signs and display the current limit on the dashboard. Limits are compared against GPS data if no signs are present.
Some industry experts have raised questions about the legal status of autonomous driving in the U.S. and whether Model S owners would violate current state regulations when using the autopilot function. The few states that have passed laws allowing autonomous cars on the road limit their use for testing purposes, not the use by the general public. Also, there are questions about the liability for autonomous cars in case there is a mistake. A Tesla spokesman said there is "nothing in our autopilot system that is in conflict with current regulations." "We are not getting rid of the pilot. This is about releasing the driver from tedious tasks so they can focus and provide better input." Google's director of self-driving cars said he does not think there is a regulatory block as long as the self-driving vehicle met crash-test and other safety standards. A spokesman for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that "any autonomous vehicle would need to meet applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards" and the NHTSA "will have the appropriate policies and regulations in place to ensure the safety of this type of vehicles."
According to Elon Musk, "We really designed the Model S to be a very sophisticated computer on wheels. Tesla is a software company as much as it is a hardware company. A huge part of what Tesla is, is a Silicon Valley software company. We view this the same as updating your phone or your laptop." Full autonomy is “really a software limitation: The hardware exists to create full autonomy, so it’s really about developing advanced, narrow AI for the car to operate on.“
The Autopilot development focus is on "increasingly sophisticated neural nets that can operate in reasonably sized computers in the car”. According to Musk, "the car will learn over time", including from other cars. Early data after 47 million miles of driving in autopilot mode shows the probability of an accident is at least 50% lower when using autopilot. However, Ars Technica notes that the brake system tends to initiate later than some drivers expect. One driver claimed that Tesla's autopilot failed to brake, resulting in collisions. Tesla pointed out that the driver deactivated the cruise control of the car prior to the crash. Ars Technica also notes that the lane changes are semi-automatic; the driver must activate the turn signal in order for the car to initiate a lane change.
Tesla's Autopilot 1 can be classified as somewhere between levels 2 and 3 under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) five levels of vehicle automation. At this level, the car can act autonomously but requires the driver to be prepared to take control at a moment's notice. Autopilot 1 is suitable only on limited-access highways, and sometimes will fail to detect lane markings and disengage itself. In urban driving the system will not read traffic signals or obey stop signs. The early system also did not detect pedestrians or cyclists, and while AP1 detects motorcycles, there has been two instances of AP rear-ending motorcycles.
There has been significant controversy over the media response to the fatal Tesla accident described in the below section. Whilst a significant amount of blame was apportioned to Tesla for the failure of its Autopilot system, it must be noted that the system at the time of the accident was in a beta phase and not ready for widespread public use, and also required the driver to ensure that their hands remained on the steering wheel at all times, and to be prepared to resume manual driving at any moment. Hence, when used as an assistive feature (as intended by Tesla), some hold the view that Autopilot can only enhance road safety, assuming it doesn't lull the driver into complacent inattention.
Autopilot potentially saved the life of a pedestrian in Washington, D.C. on the night of July 17, 2016, and played a pivotal role in a medical emergency involving 37-year-old Joshua Neally that same month. Neally was driving his Tesla Model X when he suffered a pulmonary embolism that caused intense panic and rendered him incapable of driving. Neally used Autopilot to drive most of the highway to a local hospital. At the off-ramp, Neally took control of the car and drove to the emergency room.
The first known fatal accident involving a Tesla in autopilot mode took place in Williston, Florida, on 7 May 2016. The driver was killed in a crash with a large 18-wheel tractor-trailer. By late June 2016 the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal investigation into the accident, working with the Florida Highway Patrol. According to the NHTSA, preliminary reports indicate the crash occurred when the tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection on a non-controlled access highway, and the car failed to apply the brakes. The car continued to travel after passing under the truck’s trailer. The NHTSA's preliminary evaluation was opened to examine the design and performance of any automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash, which involves a population of an estimated 25,000 Model S cars. On 8 July 2016, the NHTSA requested Tesla Inc. to hand over to the agency detailed information about the design, operation and testing of its Autopilot technology. The agency also requested details of all design changes and updates to Autopilot since its introduction, and Tesla's planned updates scheduled for the next four months.
According to Tesla, "neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied." The car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, "with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S." Tesla also stated that this was Tesla’s first known autopilot death in over 130 million miles (208 million km) driven by its customers where Autopilot was activated. According to Tesla there is a fatality every 94 million miles (150 million km) among all type of vehicles in the U.S. Some statisticians say that Tesla's use of statistics is meaningless due to the relatively small total distance traveled by Tesla cars and the different driving conditions of the two data sets being compared. It is estimated that billions of miles will need to be traveled before a statistically significant comparison can be made. Researchers say that Tesla and others need to release more data on the limitations and performance of automated driving systems if self-driving cars are to become safe and understood enough for mass market use.
The truck's driver told the Associated Press that he could hear a Harry Potter movie playing in the crashed car, and said the car was driving so quickly that "he went so fast through my trailer I didn't see him." "It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road." According to the Florida Highway Patrol, they found in the wreckage an aftermarket portable DVD player. Tesla said it is not possible to watch videos on the Model S touch screen.
In July 2016, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it had opened a formal investigation into the fatal accident while the Autopilot was engaged. The NTSB is an investigative body that only has the power to make policy recommendations. An agency spokesman said, "It's worth taking a look and seeing what we can learn from that event, so that as that automation is more widely introduced we can do it in the safest way possible." The NTSB opens annually about 25 to 30 highway investigations while it is mandated by law to investigate the more than 1,000 aviation accidents a year. In January 2017, the NTSB released the report that concluded Tesla was not at fault since the driver in the crash had seven seconds to see the truck and take action; the investigation revealed that the Tesla car crash rate dropped by 40 percent after Autopilot was installed.
At “2 to 3 months from now”, Tesla expects .. the new software validation for the Autopilot features
While the autopilot relieves you from manually manipulating the flight controls, you must maintain vigilance over the system to ensure that it performs the intended functions and the aircraft remains within acceptable parameters of altitudes, airspeeds, and airspace limits.
require “stripping down the entire car and replacing 300+ parts”
Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience,” a Tesla press release said. “While this is occurring, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency breaking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control. As these features are robustly validated we will enable them over-the-air
Musk did say that the new vehicles will eventually be able to upgrade the new onboard Autopilot computer since the access has been made relatively easy
This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.