Tesla has just named Sterling Anderson director of its Autopilot Programs. Anderson, formerly Tesla’s Model X program manager and an MIT researcher, will attempt to take the Level 2 autonomous driving system to the next level.
Maybe his first focus should be on improving Autopilot’s ability to see stopped cars. In a YouTube video by “Marc Merlin,” a Tesla Model S is approaching a car stopped at a red light. However, the driver has to slam on the brakes after “deciding that the [Tesla Model S] was not going to brake in time,” and you can see stuff on the front passenger seat slide onto the floor.
Now to be fair, Tesla Autopilot was designed for highways. While the road in the video appears to be somewhat of a major road, it’s certainly not a highway. But Merlin writes in the YouTube description that it was “difficult to test whether it would stop for a parked car/accident on the freeway.”
Merlin continues, “I talked to Tesla support and they acknowledged that the current sensors/software does not see non-moving cars very well, or sometimes too late to allow full collision avoidance.
“I’m not upset about that, just want to make sure people know about it. The manual does state that auto braking (which didn’t kick in here, it’s the AP that didn’t even see the car and I didn’t wait long enough to see if auto braking would work), is a collision mitigation system, i.e. ideally you’ll impact at lower speed.
“I was actually entering in my phone a prior bug I had just found while checking on the AP to make sure it wasn’t doing anything stupid, and while it did see a stopped car while I was doing 65mph earlier on the same drive, it didn’t see that car at all, and you see things flying in the car when I braked hard after deciding that the car was not going to brake in time.
Obviously Tesla Autopilot has some work to do, as Elon Musk has admitted, but this video serves as another reminder to pay attention if you’re driving in Autopilot.
Tesla Autopilot Saves the Day
We showed you a video of Tesla Autopilot failing, so it’s only fair to show when the technology went above and beyond the call of duty. In the first example, an Uber driver in Seattle recorded the moment his Tesla Model S, while in Autopilot mode, slowed down to avoid a head-on collision. The driver, Jon Hall, was on State Route 99 just north of downtown Seattle when an oncoming car attempted to make a left turn directly in front of him.
“Add your own honking and swearing,” Hall wrote on YouTube. “I did not touch the brake. Car did all the work. Sadly no audio, because I had an Uber passenger and Washington [state] has strict privacy laws about recording conversations.”
Hall said Autopilot was set a couple MPH below the speed limit of 45. “It’s easy to say that in hindsight, I should be going slower, but traffic tends not to pull out from you in that direction,” Hall wrote. “I was actually watching cars to the right of me, which is the entire reason the car reacted and I didn’t. All the fault is in the other driver, and the video clearly shows this.”
Hall said he had his autopilot set to follow cars at the “maximum distance.” Here’s the video.
If that doesn’t impress you, a Tesla driver in Moscow posted the following video of a taxi unexpectedly cutting them off. As you’ll see, Tesla’s Autopilot senses the oncoming taxi and moves to the side to allow room. A job well done.