How Important is AutoPilot To You?

How Important is AutoPilot To You?

Ever since making my reservation and tuning in to the world of Tesla I've repeatedly heard about this technology called autopilot. Before that I knew little to nothing about the technology of self-driving cars.

My first reaction to autopilot was "meh". My second reaction was one of slight surprise, upon reading through forum threads and other sources regarding how incredibly popular the notion of autopilot is, in particular on a (in a?) Tesla. Many Model 3 reservationists seem thrilled about this feature.

My "meh" reaction comes from having worked with computers for over 30 years. A nugget of wisdom that came forth early on was that the moment you let a computer start make decisions for you, you are opening yourself up for trouble. Computers traditionally have not been good at making decisions where there is any sort of ambiguity involved... anything requiring human-like judgement. I have to wonder if even with all the iterations of programming algorithms slowly (maybe) pushing us toward -god forbid- artificial intelligence... has anything changed?

When I first heard the term "autopilot" I assumed that meant the car drove itself. Meaning, get in the car, program in a destination -kind of like Han Solo does in the Millennium Falcon- and then kick back and the car drives itself to that destination... while you engage in other activities such as reading, sleeping, or even better, having a little Kissee-poo session with your passenger(s).

But nooooooooooo. As Elon himself has pointed out, autopilot works in cars the way it does on an airoplane... it flies on a sort of fixed course, but the pilot must be alert to changing conditions and be prepared to takeover at a moments notice. Not being a pilot I did not know that. To me, what is being called "autopilot" seems more like "driver assist". But that's just me. I've learned that the term "autonomous driving" is what I was actually taking autopilot to be. My bad.

But after reading about a few autopilot-based crash stories something is starting to crystallize. Aside from sensor failures and other foul-ups with the technology (if any), I'm starting to get the sense that drivers will start to treat autopilot like autonomous driving. Are some of the reported accidents due to people relying too much on the autopilot? If so, it's human nature. We get used to the idea that autopilot will, for example, slow down the car if it spots an obstacle on the road. That facility works great 5.. 10.. maybe 100 times in a row. We get used to that behavior. And adapt. We keep our eyes on the newspaper we're reading for longer and longer periods of time. We turn our heads to make eye contact with the rear passenger for longer periods at a time. And quite likely, especially with teenagers, we engage in longer and longer Kissee-poo sessions (amazingly, "Kissee-poo" is already in the dictionary of this forum).

Bottom line, we are lulled into a [false] sense of complacency. Again, human nature.

So for me, the jury is really out on autopilot. One would suspect that it's not going to take too many overconfidence-in-auto-pilot-fender-benders to have lawmakers going Pencils Up to try and address the issue. I'll bet anyone a nickel on that.

Moral of the story: Maybe the current technology actually should be called Driver Assist after all. Maybe we should have a soft voice gently remind us each time we engage autopilot that autopilot is NOT autonomous driving. Maybe this. Maybe that. I don't know. Maybe I'm just a Luddite.

One thing is for certain when I get my 3... I'm DISABLING the autopilot before letting any young people drive the car!

Oh. Am I going to use autopilot when I get my 3? Probably most likely. Only human you know.

Red Sage ca us | 20 juni 2016

I think of Autopilot as a very capable version of Cruise Control. So, I would use it the same way, in the same conditions. That is, clear weather, on the open road, while traveling long distances at speed.

Doctor Who said, "The trouble with computers, of course, is that they're very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed, even if you order them to kill you. So if you do happen to change your mind, it's very difficult to stop them obeying the original order, but... not impossible."

Drdpharris | 20 juni 2016

Re ascribing meanings to words, especially wrt new technology:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all." -- Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass

I am a skeptic and will wait and see, but what AP is available does seem to work within in its stated limits.

grantwatson | 20 juni 2016

OP: To answer your question: As a Model S owner, AP is very important to me. When I have to drive my other car (wife has priority on the MS!) I yearn for AP. Once you've had it, you can't go back!

To address your other points: You've joined a long line of naysayers in pointing out the limitations of AP and suggesting different names and features of it (btw there is text on the gauge dash that pops up and says "please keep your hands on the wheel at all times"). No doubt there's a long way to go from AP to autonomous driving, but not nearly as long as you might think if you haven't driven a Model S.

I say yes, of course, be careful and realize that you're still in charge when using AP, but I believe that overall I'm safer using it than not. And that's using the first iteration of AP - more capability will come very soon!

Badbot | 20 juni 2016

I am getting AP and will use it as much as I trust it. I also know it will improve over time via updates. It will have to regain my trust after every update. Microsoft Windows wacked it self a few years ago Via an update, so I am wary in the aftermath of updates.
At this time my ability to drive is fine. I am a senior now and watching other seniors makes me worry at times. By getting AP I hope to be covered by AP If and or when my talents fade. I also know eyesight fades as well. I think that when full antonymous cars are perfected the old, blind, infirm, and just plain BAD drivers can be taken by AP (what ever the other guys call it) to wherever they need to go. Plus the drunk, high, passed out people can get home as well.
I plan to get into the 70 mile per hour club too. It's something like the mile high club.

tesla | 20 juni 2016

Yeah. Advanced Kissee-poo.

PhillyGal | 20 juni 2016

Agree with grant. Once you've used it, it's hard to let go of. For that reason, I'll be getting my Model 3 with it. Hubs and I will both drive that as well as our MS.

We had our MS a solid 10 months before AP was released and while I was not before a big fan of cruise control, I use AP quite regularly.

But you also hit the nail on the head - you aren't letting the car make decisions for you. You're letting the car lane keep and distance keep while you use your brain power for more situational awareness. It can also change lanes, but you have to have decided you wanted to.

damonmath | 20 juni 2016

As a Model S owner with AP I can say I use it everyday and it's one of the BEST features of the car. I do not however, read the paper, answer texts, etc... while using it. I watch the road. As Red Sage has stated AP is more akin to Cruise Control and should be used under those circumstances. While it can be used on 2 lane roads, I wouldn't trust it as well as on the highway. Reason being that while AP is great on long stretches of freeway, it does not see so well on curvy hilly roads and can interpret blind peaks as curves that do not exist sending you into the other lane.

Captain_Zap | 20 juni 2016

I did a 300 mile round trip this weekend and I contemplated Autopilot. I concluded that it wouldn't add much to the driving experience due to the congestion and the actions of other drivers that do aggressive things.. The Autopilot would have freaked out at the construction zone striping that I saw. Some of it was like toilet paper that was wadded up and strips of temporary striping were blowing in the wind.

carlos | 20 juni 2016

The OP does make a very valid point. Food for thought !!!

tesla | 20 juni 2016

Well that's just it carlos. The post is almost a reminder to myself not to get too carried away with AP, once it comes.

A friend of mine just bought a recent vintage Dodge Charger. WOW. Lots of Tesla like electro bells and whistles. It has "adaptive" cruise control, which means the car slows down when the lane is blocked, and then speeds up when the lane clears. I actually LOVE that concept. (for all I know, driving a 20 year old car, most cars may have this now).

btw - tip of the hat to all Model S owners. You guys (and gals) never come in here and poo poo the Tesla wannabes. Says something about your character. :)

KP in NPT | 20 juni 2016

I love my AP despite it's limitations and wouldn't consider getting a Tesla without it. We had our Model S for about 5 months pre-AP so got to drive it both ways before it was "switched on." It has changed my life in regards to my commute. And with OTA updates it keeps getting better...

bmalloy0 | 20 juni 2016

It will definitely be something I get, but will not be something I get when I order it. I'm stretching my finances as it is to get the M3. I'd rather pay a bit more later than make it more expensive on delivery.

Haggy | 20 juni 2016

I can't comment on any specific accidents but data shows that vehicles are significantly safer with it. Also, it's constantly being refined. I got an update recently that smoothed things out tremendously and it now reacts far sooner to things far away and slows down more gradually. I'd be very surprised if it ended up doing anything like the accidents I saw in videos, but in those cases the driver should have taken action. I think the problem is that people got used to the idea of the car taking action later than they would have done on their own, so they waited it out. I don't think my particular release of the software is very widespread, but it's very notable that when a new technology comes out, such as autopilot, you will see videos appear quickly that show it off and show its problems. But when new software releases come out, especially when they don't even have release notes since there are new features, nobody goes out and makes videos to post on YouTube showing how much better it got.

These days, it's smooth. It adjusts its speed for curves, slows down more gradually, and if somebody told me that Tesla had programmed it to learn by driving habits and apply them when autopilot is on, I'd believe them.

None of that is for the steering. The steering is generally good, and is getting better, but it can be jerky in some places and on some curves. The car will stay in its lane just fine, but I think Tesla will need to do a bit more fine tuning before they get it comfortable enough that passengers can't tell the difference between it and a human driver.

Frank99 | 20 juni 2016

For me, the "adaptive cruise control" aspect is a critical feature. Driving in stop-and-go freeway traffic or driving on long-distance trips, not having to mess with the gas/brake and/or cruise control will be a godsend.

The lane-keeping (or lane-switching) functions aren't going to be so important, I don't believe. I will either trust the car to always do the right thing and be able to fall asleep while driving, or I won't fully trust it and will have to stay awake with a hand on the wheel. If i have to have a hand on the wheel, lane-keeping really isn't very distracting or difficult to do manually, especially if following distance and speed are handled for me. Of course, it will make it easier to grab a drink of coffee with one hand while holding my Big Mac in the other...

tesla | 20 juni 2016

Frank99 said "Of course, it will make it easier to grab a drink of coffee with one hand while holding my Big Mac in the other..."

Ha! You are reminding me of when we used to live by a school in Santa Barbara. I'd make fun of the "soccer moms" who would drop their kids and then pull out of the driveway at about warp 6... a latte in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

Yeah. Give those women AP! It can't be any more dangerous. lol.

zakeeus | 20 juni 2016

If it doesn't have a pothole avoiding feature, I can't really use it here. So I don't plan on getting it.

mbukovicky | 20 juni 2016

its an absolute must have feature in the 3

yongliangzhu68 | 20 juni 2016

In all likelihood the M3 (and MS/MX) will have AP 2.0 or higher by the time the M3 is released. So The OP points could be different or moot.

artC | 20 juni 2016

After metallic paint and leather seats, that's my first option to add.

ur798 | 20 juni 2016

These are must have for the 3 : Auto Pilot, Duel Motors, Air Suspension, Audio Pkg, and Supercharge option.

JeffreyR | 20 juni 2016

Here is an article that summarizes the different classes of Autonomous Driving:

Autonomous driving levels 0 to 5: Understanding the differences

"Level 4: This is what is meant by 'fully autonomous.' According to the DOT, level 4 vehicles are 'designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.' It's what Tesla says will be available by 2018."

draselder | 20 juni 2016

Level 1 for sure, maybe even level 2...Ooooh I feel faint already.

mntlvr23 | 20 juni 2016

I am glad to hear so many pro-AP comments, as it gives me hope that I might turn around on this issue. I too have never given AP a thought since the last month or two (and I really did not know much about AP until recently).

Phase 1: My very first thoughts were that I would definitely NOT want to have it - I love to drive, I love to control the car - and therefore it would be hard to buy into the paradigm shift of ceding much of the normal work to the car's computer.

Phase 2: After watching a show that covered how much of a safety feature AP is, and how less likely you are to get into an accident - I started turning toward the pro-AP camp. I thought of each of the minor accidents that I have been in over my nearly 40 years of driving. This could be a good thing, save me some future hassle, or maybe save my live. This is the future - I should be buying into this.

Phase 3: During my Model S test drive, I had my first hands-on (or hands-off) experience. Driving down some back roads, the AP would not turn on. The specialist told me that the road was too hilly and the sensors could not see over the hill. That was understandable, but something that I had never thought of before. Later on as my wife was driving it back the store, she was driving below the speed limit in the slow lane of a highway and we had to turn left about a 1/2 mile ahead. I urged her to have the AP make the turn into the fast lane for her - and then the specialist told her, it would NOT be a good idea. He said that the cars in the fast lane were going much faster than her, and that the AP does not always do a good job recognizing cars coming up quickly from behind. More things that I would not have thought of.

So I am back in purgatory, wondering how useful AP will be. I understand that for me, it would be most useful on the highway, where it is flat, and where I typically will be going with the flow of traffic or slightly faster. I also understand that V2 will likely be available by the time my M3 is delivered, and that it will likely be much improved.

Will the standard crash-avoidance safety features be the bulk of the safety that I can expect (and that the added cost is mostly for convenience?). I would really like to save the $2K if I am not getting value and satisfaction out of it. I also tell myself that I can always activate it later (though for maybe an additional $500.)

My mind is still open to the idea. It is a good thing that I am renting a loaded Model S for two days next week for 850-900 miles of driving. I expect to do a lot of driving with AP both on and off - and get a better feel for it. I will keep reading everyone's experiences and I will see how next week works out. Time will tell.

KP in NPT | 20 juni 2016

At this point AP is only recommended for use on the highway - but that will change, maybe even with v. 2 which is expected before the Model 3 is released.

mntlvr23 | 20 juni 2016

I assume that AP is done strictly by sensors and not by any GPS, mapping and/or route memory (perhaps on winding one lane roads)

warren_tran | 20 juni 2016

Not a necessity.

kaffine | 20 juni 2016

If they release fully autonomous driving before the Model 3 is out I will cash in my 401k to by an Model S. That would improve my current life enough to justify spending my retirement fund on I have time to rebuild my savings but I can't get back all the time wasted driving.

I figure looking at traffic now not many are actually paying attention to driving now. Most are looking at their cell phone, eating, reading a book, sight seeing ect. Advanced cruise control with the ability to control the car is a much welcome feature in my mind. While you say computers are not good at decision making if it is ambiguous they do excel at paying attention and performing repetitive tasks something humans suck at. I trust the current state of autopilot more than I trust the average driver. The problem will be that instead of having to prove it is much safer than a human it will almost have to be perfect to gain full acceptance. I don't think it will be acceptable if it just reduces accidents by 50% or even 75%. I think it will have to reduce accidents by 90+% and even then whenever there is an accident it will make huge headlines.

afestini | 20 juni 2016

Don't think of it as buying the current AP features (basically active lane assist and adaptive cruise control), think of it as investing into ongoing development. Even if the features as of today won't blow you away, the next set of features is one software update away (as far as they are possible with 1.0 hardware).

dnland | 20 juni 2016

I don't think I'll tick the box for AP if it's an option. I enjoy driving too much (even including my daily commute). It's an awesome option and will be popular for many buyers, but not foe me. I guess I'm too much of a control freak.

bohjaaa | 21 juni 2016

So far in my driving career, my favorite feature is definately cruise control. For the last ten years, when I was on the market for a new (used) car, if it had no cruise control, I walked away. I use it on a daily basis, even on low speed (70/80 km/h). I helps tremendously against getting cramp in my foot because I can rest my foot relax on the floor.
But when we will configure our M3 I dont think we will opt for the AP CONVENIENCE features. At this moment we dont think its a feature that we really are in the need for (ofcourse it would be nice to show to family and friends :P ). Currently I have never make use of a car that has the same features as the AP SAFETY features and they will become standard on the M3. So we are basically already get a imporvement comparing to our current situation. Of course we might activate it at a later stage. Thats the beauty with these software enabled features. Time will tell.

cquail | 21 juni 2016

Autopilot is a tool. Sometimes you use, it sometimes not. Having said that I will get autopilot on our Model 3. I use it a great deal on road trips in our Tesla S85D.

Yesterday was a good example. We had just left the motel. I had a hot cup of coffee. I enter the four lane an turn on auto pilot set to the speed limit. I pick up my coffee with both hands while the car drives itself for a while. I still keep my eyes on the road.

Those that say they like to drive so won't have autopilot are missing the point. I like to drive too, but enjoy letting the car drive while I watch on long stretches of highway or in stop-and-go traffic. It makes the journey more enjoyable and less tiring.

charles_gingras | 21 juni 2016

I'm not getting AP until it's level 4 autonomous driving available.

Rocky_H | 21 juni 2016

Regarding the original question, no, AP is not important to me. My driving is almost all through town and very little highway driving in traffic, so I just don't have much use for it. Also, I'm just not spoiled on a lot of car features, coming from a 10 year old Civic. There are a lot of things my old Model S has that many of you would consider barbaric to live without, but were new to me: power adjusting seats, Bluetooth, navigation, auto-dimming mirrors, etc.

SUN 2 DRV | 21 juni 2016

AP is way down on my list of feature priorities.

I drove a MS loaner with TACC. Generally worked great but one scenario was very concerning. It was at following distance to the car ahead. Traffic was slowing down ahead so the car ahead of me switched lanes and TACC decided to ACCELERATE instead of slowing for the upcoming stopped traffic. I assume it eventually would have slowed/stopped but I immediately disengaged it and never gave it another chance.

I'm perfectly happy to drive my car myself.

dc | 21 juni 2016

I would be happy to have AP because nothing is more boring or prone to create lapses in concentration than being stuck in traffic. And for other people to have similar cars! I got rear ended twice badly in the 20 odd years of driving, because one driver wasn't concentrating in stop-start traffic and slammed in to me and the other's foot slipped off the gas pedal in the winter (and was uninsured).

casun | 21 juni 2016

very important. its one of two options that i will definitely be adding.

alseTrick | 21 juni 2016

It's not important at all.

If I had it, would I use it? Most likely. At the very least I'd try it out in order to see how it'd effect my driving. But I don't have an exceptionally long commute or take frequent road trips, so I don't feel it's something I need.

If it worked well on streets as well as it apparently does on the highway then I'd be more interested. If it was full autonomy, I'd absolutely be interested, assuming it wasn't substantially more expensive than the current autopilot option.

(That said, it really, really sounds like Tesla is going to announce some major autopilot/autonomy news later this year and that that will be available on the Model 3.)

alseTrick | 22 juni 2016

PS - Even though I'd be very interested in autopilot 2.0 and full autonomy, it's still not "important" to me.

PhillyGal | 22 juni 2016

@mp - yes! We did 10 months without AP. Some of those did have the TACC though. I forget when.

@Frank - The TACC is really nice. What a lot of people don't realize about the AP suite of features is that you can easily customize how you want it to work. For example, steering and TACC, then TACC only, then change the following distance...

Read this:

PhillyGal | 22 juni 2016

@mntlvr23 - Read the above link I just posted.

@joehuber - That right there is a responsible use of driver's assistance. There are a lot of goofy situations like that where you have to pay attention. If you're in the middle lane and the car in front of you moves left, for example, your car will jump to accelerate into the free space. But if a car on your right was watching and waiting for that space to move to the middle lane (in front of you), the car doesn't realize it the way you might have by their use of blinker. It just makes you look like a meanieface not allowing a lane change.

dd.micsol | 22 juni 2016

autopilot will not be a selection by me. That simple.

KP in NPT | 22 juni 2016

@PhillyGal yes, we had the TACC on our Jun/15 build. Having never had it before, I thought it was cool. AP took it to a whole new level though. ;)

tesla | 22 juni 2016

FYI - This thread has been very helpful and enlightening. Thank you.

laurent556 | 22 juni 2016

AP might not be important now but it's tough to predict wether it will become a std in the next 5-10 yrs.
It's nice to have the hardware and software required for AP by default and who know maybe I'll end up activating it in the future.

Haggy | 23 juni 2016

AP does use a combination of sensors and GPS. It doesn't use any rear facing radar in existing vehicles, so a car approaching quickly in another lane is a potential issue, but no bigger an issue than it would be without autopilot. In other words, you check to see if the lane is clear, signal, and the car will change lanes. Don't signal unless you would have made the same lane change manually. But do check your blind spot, and the vehicle will also show you if there's anything in your blind spot.

By default, when you enable autopilot, it will be at the speed limit. You can also have an adjustment factor, such as 5 mph over the speed limit, if you live in an area where that would be advisable. In that case, if you are going under the speed limit and the next lane over is moving faster, you'd have to judge whether the speed difference is such that it would be safe. You do have the option of slamming your foot down on the accelerator if you want the car to speed up faster than it would on its own, but it comes down to common sense driving. Don't expect the car to do anything that you wouldn't do on your own.

AP isn't recommended for local streets because it can't work with traffic lights, stop signs, and other situations that aren't accounted for. To put it another way, it works just fine, but in combination with the driver. In other words, you can't put it on and leave it on. You can put it on knowing that you will turn it off whenever there's a stop sign or a red light and nobody in front of you. It might stay on most of the time when in local traffic, but the fact that it has to be turned off for part of local driving means that Tesla can't say that you can use it for local driving. It doesn't mean the car has a harder time steering or keeping a following distance in local traffic.

You also need to recognize that Tesla is constantly improving autopilot. There were plenty of videos when autopilot first came out, but people don't make new videos to show how autopilot changed after any given interim software update with no new features introduced. If you had a video of somebody who just passed a road test, that wouldn't show you how well the person could drive a year later.

The part of autopilot that controls starting and stopping has been out since January 2015. Back then, it worked, but I wouldn't have recommended looking away from the road or relying on it to stop behind traffic that was already stopped. It was much more important to assume it might not do so than it is with current releases. You still have to assume you might need to take over at a moment's notice, but with early releases it was expected that it would happen more regularly. Back then, it worked but wasn't very smooth. It didn't work as well as many competing vehicles, except that many of the others weren't designed to come to a complete stop.

These days, TACC drives more like an experienced driver. At least that's true of the release I'm on. The difference between when people started making videos showing it off and the way it behaves now is profound. Steering has improved also, but I'd say it still has more of a way to go. It drives well in general, but the ride quality will be smoother with a human driver and I wouldn't trust it on S curves. I'd be surprised if there aren't vast improvements by the time the Model 3 comes out.

kaffine | 23 juni 2016

Just how much faster than the speed limit can you set AP? Is there a limit or can I set it for how fast I want?

Ehninger1212 | 25 juni 2016

I would purchase AP is one of the most important options to me. And a bare minimum I want AP and dual motors.. Everything else is up in althe air based on price.

DTsea | 25 juni 2016

To me it is a daily vital utility. I traded in my 2013 60 to get AP and i love it.

boodasmurph | 26 juni 2016

For me, the AP convenience features aren't that high a priority.
My list is

1. Larger battery pack
2. Dual motors
3. Pre-paid SC
4. AP convenience features

Tesla-David | 26 juni 2016

I traded my 2013 S85 MS for S85D MS last year in part to get AP, and would not get any future Tesla's without AP. I love AP in my current MS, and have found it to be tremendous assistance on trips, where it dramatically reduces stress on long road trips.