How Autopilot has added years to my life.

How Autopilot has added years to my life.

Every now and then a company introduces technology that truly is a “game changer” in how drastically different your daily life is impacted once you are introduced to it. I truly feel I am witness to the dawn of such technology, brought to us by the innovative company Tesla.

I can go on and on about the many features of my Tesla Model S (2015 90D) that make me smile every time I enter the vehicle, but the one feature that rises above all in this wonderful tech car is the Autopilot setting.

First, a little background on myself. I am a physician, and as such possess the classic “Type A” personality. Every day I have about a 35 mile commute which although can occasionally be relaxing, is more often than not quite frustrating, dealing with other drivers on the road that do not follow common courtesy (most often the drivers that insist solely on travelling in the fast lane while talking on the cellphone, etc all the while building what I call a parade behind them). I typically use the cruise control on these commutes, however this often caused more frustration. With my former daily driver, I had to repeatedly disengage and engage the cruise control as I encountered these obstacles. It often caused me to overtake on the slow lane and darting back into the fast lane before I encountered a vehicle appropriately traveling on the right. I would often have to find myself needing to decompress when I first enter my workplace just from the buildup of stress frommy morning commute.

Enter Tesla into my life and the impact was obvious from the very first day I drove to work. The adaptive cruise control was leaps and bounds superior to the standard cruise control I had been accustomed to, automatically slowing down when traffic dictates without any input from me and then resuming speed when traffic clears. In fact, if this was all that Tesla offered, it still would have eliminated 95% of the frustration of my morning and evening commutes and I would be an incredibly happy owner.

However Tesla went a giant step above and introduced Autopilot. I did not know what the act of driving did to one’s mindset even in the best of traffic conditions. Although it feels subconscious, when manually driving a car, your brain is processing so much information, calculating velocity, road conditions, curves ahead, etc so that you can stay in your lane of travel. These constant mental calculations running in the background do take a toll on your mental state (akin to a computer running many applications in the background which causes the overall computer performance to slow down).

With Autopilot, my car took over all the minutia of staying in one’s lane, driving in traffic, etc and allowed me to relax in a more supervisory roll. Tesla also was kind enough to eliminate a potential annoyance I see with other manufacture’s attempts at “autopilot” by giving us Autopilot with Lane Change ability. Currently, other manufacturers which implement some sort of Lane Maintenance capability in their cars ONLY works by forcing you to stay in that particular lane. If you want to leave the current lane, the driver has to manually disengage this setting, change lanes, and then reengage the setting. I could see this cause frustration similar to what the standard cruise control feature did on my old car. With my Tesla, I just touch the indicator stalk and the car effortlessly goes into the lane I want, Autopilot engaged fully throughout.

Such was the impact that Autopilot had on my commute, that the first day I drove to work, I actually almost missed my exit. True story. I could not believe how quickly the commute seemed to be and my exit seemed to come up from nowhere. Once I realized where I was, I had to make 3 lane changes to quickly get off into the exit ramp for my workplace, which luckily I did (the only stressful part of the entire drive). It was the same distance, but the commute felt like it took half the time and I was fully relaxed pulling into the parking lot. It truly is unbelievable when you get to free your brain from the complexities of driving on the interstate and allow it to actually enjoy the experience. I remember really listening to and enjoying the music playing and just observing more things around me than before when I had to have focus on the actual task of driving.

There will always be naysayers whenever any new technology is first introduced. One criticism regarding Tesla’s autopilot that I have heard is that you lose the fun of actually driving the car. My response to that is that Autopilot is not an all or none option. For the long tedious interstate/highway travel I am happy to let Autopilot take the wheel so that my senses don’t get dulled from the monotony of driving straight for miles (if there are drivers out there who consider that scenario fun, more power to them). But you can bet that I don’t let Autopilot have the fun when I am driving those beautiful winding road with many curves, which I am fortunate to have near my house. I grab the wheel and get the full driver’s experience with precise tactile feedback from the road. Autopilot: Best of both worlds.

The most astonishing thing of all is that my version of Autopilot is considered a beta testing program by Tesla. As part of a community of Tesla owners, whenever autopilot is engaged, that information is sent centrally and Tesla learns driving habits and improves mapping of those roads. When one car learns something, every other car gets that information and improves automatically, sort of like a hive mentality. Amazing concept and one I witnessed firsthand: On my first commute, there was a tricky portion of highway where two lanes became three, with no real markings on the road to divide the lanes for 500 feet or so. When my car first encountered that section, it did not know what to do and split the difference (essentially driving in the middle of the two unmarked lanes). I made a manual correction to get it back into the lane I wanted. The next day, and everyday afterwards, the car anticipated this and correctly maintained proper lane control without any intervention. All it took was one experience and manual input from the driver and it learned proper driving behavior from then on. Amazing.

If Autopilot is this good now, I can only imagine how great it will be when it gets to its final version. The fact that I have a Tesla also means that when that version comes out, I will wake up one morning and my car will tell me I have an update to download, so I will never have to settle for old technology as my car ages. In fact, although I have only owned my car for 3 months, I have already downloaded an improved beta version of Autopilot with visibly noticeable improvements over the original version the car came with.

I applaud Tesla for pushing the technology envelope. They will always have a loyal customer in me.


Run4Waffles | February 13, 2016

Very well said jugdish. Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations.

rxlawdude | February 13, 2016

Yep, I have a 45 mile one-way commute, and Auto-Steer has now gotten good enough to rely on about 90-95% of the drive. When 7.0 first came out, it could only be relied on a small fraction of the time.

But even without Auto-Steer, TACC was a game changer for me. My previous car, a Prius-plug-in, had adaptive cruise, but only down to 25 mph and it would disengage. The full stop-to-speed TACC is light years more usable.

Son of a Gunn | February 13, 2016

Yup. The cognitive load on the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala.

CF | February 13, 2016

I agree with your assessment of the autopilot improvement over time. I used to dread freeway exits with little additional line paint, my hands would be on the wheel each time in case the car decided to take the exit. Fast forward a few months after release, We drove Vancouver to Seattle with only two minor corrections! Hopefully in the future all exits will have dashed lines to further eliminate this issue.

buchholtz3 | February 13, 2016

I recently had a loaner without AP for a few hours while my car was in the Service Center. I couldn't believe how much I missed it.

flight505 | February 13, 2016

I can't rest more with AP engaged. As long as my hands are on the steering wheel, I figure I might as well steer.

billvb | February 13, 2016

I think all of us are going to have a lot more autonomy and freedom in our 'golden years' due to this technology. I'm very happy with the idea that my daughter won't have to have that conversation with me about surrendering my car keys!

compchat | February 14, 2016


Are you a psychiatrist. Certainly your post was too wordy for a surgeon of any type.

Run4Waffles | February 14, 2016

@compchat - too funny. However, I thought the patient did all the talking?

Once I was able to get comfortable with using Autopilot and TAAC, they do make the commutes less stressful, enjoyable and "shorter". Effects that it didn't expect. And it has removed the "need" to get there as fast as possible without getting pulled over. I find an opening and I let Jarvis get me there.

It's still beta but is pretty good and will get better. Thank you Tesla for this marvelous engineering.

priustech | February 14, 2016

As a psychiatrist myself reading the post felt like talking to colleague.

Anthony J. Parisio | February 14, 2016

Yes you said it all for me. Thank you.

Pigsy1024 | February 14, 2016

Autopilot, in combo with the ability to use car pool lanes, has probably been responsible for seriously lowering my BP and giving me between 90-120 mins of my life back each day.

I have a 90 mile round-trip commute, most of which is on the slowly shuffling parking lot known as the 405. In my old ICE days, this could mean 4-5 hours a day in the car, and if it happened to be raining, 6+....other LA divers can confirm this.

I now spend just over 2 hours a day driving, and with autopilot it feels, at most, half that,..Plus I no longer have the desire to mount twin .50 cals on the hood, possibly along with a flame thrower.

I now might even make it into my 60's

Tesla-David | February 14, 2016

@jugdish ; very well said, and I totally agree!

frankkoh | February 14, 2016

Well said, Jugdish. However, a minor correction -- your "supervisory roll" should be "supervisory role."

rxlawdude | February 14, 2016

@Pigsy1024 - I think you're expecting a lot out of El Nino when you say with rain, LA divers can confirm... :-)

@priustech - You're a psychiatrist? I thought you were a Toyota mechanic. :-)

Gayatrikr | February 14, 2016

great great writeup Jugdish!! my thoughts mostly just didn't have that much patience as u

AP has enormously reduced my daily 100 mile commute stress
especially at 50+ seem to have adhd :-)
glad I quickly disposed my 2013 ms for the new 70 ms ap
What a guy Elon
When will US and the world credit this guy's real worth ?
I see press wanting to jump on every little misstep this great man takes which he does not but the press loves to make it look like he does
every little shameful excuse of an (electric) car is a tesla killer for the press
who is behind this anti tesla
That Bob Lutz instead of hiding in shame his volt and his miserable via motors failures he has the gall to barrage against tesla

Tropopause | February 14, 2016

Someone on this forum once said that if Autopilot doesn't get upset about the way others are driving, why should he? Usually by the time Autopilot has responded to a situation, it's too late to get frustrated and the relaxed feeling it gives me is more welcomed.

Also the new 5mph speed limit cap forces me to drive more conservatively on non-divided roads.

PhillyGal | February 14, 2016

Cheers to that! And I'll take it a step further that even before TACC (then AP as we now know it) was introduced, driving this car made my formerly stressful commute a heck of a lot more relaxing. It's a driver's car, don't get me wrong, but it's so comfortable, luxurious, quiet and smooth that there is a distinct enjoyment from taking it easy.

This from a 17 mile one-way commute from one Philly neighborhood to another that thanks to traffic takes almost an hour.

jugdish | February 14, 2016

@compchat: Lol. Nope not a psychiatrist. I happen to be a radiologist. I am very fortunate that I am a very fast typist (around 90 wpm) or that post would never have been written at all. It really is a testament to Tesla on how passionate the owners are about their vehicle.

Tesla-David | February 14, 2016

@PhillyGal, well said, I feel the same way about driving my S85D. Feels like I am in a spaceship. This pre TACC and Autopilot piece in the Onion pretty much describes how I feel about my Tesla Model S.

Tesla-David | February 14, 2016

Oops I meant theOatmeal

PhillyGal | February 14, 2016

That Oatmeal comic is epic and I always enjoy re-reading it.

Rajkrishnan9 | February 14, 2016

Wish tesla nxt version wud add full emergency brake forward and reverse regardless of. Tacc

Red Sage ca us | February 18, 2016

jugdish: Thank you very much for letting us know how this has worked for you! Very good information. If you haven't seen it before, this might be enjoyable...

Tesla AutoPilot in Snow: What happens as lane markings disappear? (6:43)
YouTube -- lTtLGP4cRaQ


Pigsy1024: Not to mention the Rocket Launchers, eh? I've wanted that option since 1990... That is, if I couldn't get the hovercraft mode.

I just completed a circuit of the 110 N, 10 W, and 405 S freeways with my Brother. The ridiculous amount of people who were just... sitting there... for no apparent reason, truly got on my nerves. Almost as much as the people who were flipping me off for maintaining a safe distance behind the crawling traffic.

[CAUTION -- Driver is applying makeup.]

TaoJones | February 18, 2016

You want to really appreciate AP? Drive a non-AP loaner for a bit. It's like those Aleve commercials. While the non-AP loaner (a mid-2014 model) was a fine car in most every respect (air suspension, upgraded audio), the absence of TACC alone is immediately noticeable.

Patiently waiting for red light and stop sign recognition; this functionality is due this year per Elon. However, he didn't note whether the current sensor package would be sufficient, and nobody followed up to ask.

JayInJapan | February 19, 2016

OP, Animal House fan, by any chance? If yes, then good, you'll have lots to talk about! ;-)

JohnBatty | February 19, 2016

I completely agree with the progressive reductions in stress. In my own experience stage 1 was automatic transmission when I switched to BMW 20 years ago and then, through that marque their version of TACC 10 years ago. Autopilot adds stage 3, when it's appropriate. I look forward to a time when it is safe to use it more of the time, and I'm willing to spend some time on each journey "teaching" it - by taking back control when it deviates for the benefit of TM data analysis. My only disappointment really, has been that 7.1 seems to have been a step backwards.Previously the rigid adherence to the centre of the lane wasn't ideal, but the current tendency towards the left of the lane (RHD car) and erratic wandering are quite disconcerting.