From Disney’s Herbie the Lovebug to KITT in the TV show Knight Rider, we have been promised self-driving or autonomous cars for years. Tesla offers autopilot on their current lineup of cars, but when did this start, and is Autopilot available on all Tesla cars?
Autopilot is available on four current Tesla model vehicles:
- Tesla Model 3
- Tesla Model S
- Tesla Model X
- Tesla Model Y
Are self-driving cars really here and can they really drive themselves? Let’s take a look at which Tesla cars have autopilot and what that actually means.
Which Tesla Cars Have Autopilot
Tesla introduced its autopilot hardware to its model lineup in September of 2014.. It continued to upgrade the software suite for its “Full Self-Driving” cars and in October of 2015, it released version 7.0 of its Tesla operating system.
Tesla car owners could now buy the additional autopilot package which, according to Tesla, made driving a Tesla Model S and a Tesla Model X more fun and safer to drive. The autopilot Hardware 1.0 package was offered in Tesla automobile models manufactured from September of 2014 until October 2016.
This initial offering consisted of:
- One forward-facing camera
- A radar system
- Twelve ultrasonic sensors
The forward-facing camera was connected to the radar system. It maintained the speed when in cruise control. The sonar sensors were used to detect items surrounding the car while changing lanes and self-parking.
Using this combination of hardware and constantly evolving software, Tesla created a system that was designed to assist the driver rather than to completely take over the responsibility for driving.
Older Tesla Models S and X automobiles produced after 2014 that do not have autopilot already installed, can purchase it as an add-on. All Tesla models since 2016 have standard autopilot hardware installed. As of 2019, all Tesla automobiles come standard with autopilot software. Other more advanced packages for Full Self-Driving enhancements are available.
Today, Tesla Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y all come complete with autopilot hardware in place and autopilot standard installed. To use autopilot or what today is called Enhanced Autopilot, a new owner must purchase a subscription. This subscription allows the car to receive regular software updates, ensuring the latest updates and features.
Now that you know which cars come with autopilot, let’s look into what that means, and the features included in each package.
What is Tesla Autopilot
“Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do.” – Elon Musk
Autopilot or Enhanced Autopilot is what Tesla calls “Full Self-Driving”. While this is a step towards Elon Musk’s vision of a fully autonomous car, it is important to know full self-driving cars require the full control and attention of the driver. We are not to that point where if the movies can be believed, we can sit back and let the car do all the driving. Instead, the Enhanced Autopilot features are designed to help the driver guide the driver along in their travels.
Let’s take a look at the features in the Enhanced Autopilot package and what they can do.
Autopilot allows your car to automatically adjust for other traffic and pedestrians. It will assist you with automatically adjusting:
The features included in the autopilot package are:
- Traffic-Aware Cruise Control: Keeps the speed of your car going at the correct speed limit while adjusting to the speed and distances of nearby traffic.
- Autosteer: This feature keeps your car in the proper, clearly marked lanes, and engages Traffic-Aware Cruise Control when needed.
Autosteer determines the amount of turning force used on the steering wheel. If you are not applying enough torque, the car will let you know by sounding audible warnings and displaying visual alerts that remind you to pay attention and keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Autopilot will be disabled until the car is started again if you continue to ignore these warnings.
Additional features available with the Full Self-Driving package are:
- Navigate on autopilot: Adjusts your car in maneuvering on a highway going on and off exit ramps.
Navigate on autopilot will also make suggestions for
- lane changes
- navigating interchanges,
- which exit to take
Navigate on autopilot will even make use of the turn signal when needed.
- Auto Lane Change: When you have enabled Autosteer while driving on the highway, Auto Lane Change will assess the traffic around you and guide you in changing lanes
- Autopark: For those that need help parking your car, Autopark guides your car perfectly with only one touch.
- Summon: Perfect for people who are always losing their car in the parking lot. With this feature, the car finds you instead.
- Traffic and Stop Sign Control: This feature adjusts the speed of your car and stops automatically as it approaches traffic lights or stop signs.
While the autopilot and Enhanced Autopilot offer many very cool features it is important to remember it does have its limitations. You should keep in mind that many things can affect the performance of your car. Many of these situations are times any driver should be more alert while others are more practical.
- Heavy rain, snow, or fog where your sight is obstructed.
- Intense lights such as those from oncoming traffic or driving into the sun
- Hazardous road conditions due to ice or snow, flooding, or strong winds
- Objects such as bike racks mounted to the car and blocking the view of a camera or sensor
- Stickers or paint covering or blocking the view of the cameras
- Damage to the bumper or any other area where a camera or sensor is located
What Tesla Autopilot is Not
Elon Musk said we’d have self-driving cars by now, but he wasn’t the only one. GM, Honda, Toyota, all expected to have cars on the road that took control of the driving while the human took a nap or read a book. We may not be there yet, but Tesla is prepared.
Tesla autopilot does not mean a fully autonomous, self-driving car although, according to Elon Musk, that may be a possibility in the near future. Tesla is ready for FSD or Fully Self-Driving cars. All of its models from 2016 onward have the hardware to enable Full Self-Driving when it comes available. Regular software updates ensure that your Tesla has the latest and greatest capabilities when, and if automated driving becomes a reality.
According to the experts at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are five levels of automation levels for automobiles.
- Level 0=No automation and the driver controls the car
- Level 1=Assisted Driving or Partial automation: The driver remains in control of the car but there are some automatic features such as cruise control and auto-park.
- Level 2=Partial Automation where the car takes over some parts of driving in certain situations such as steering and braking, but the driver must remain constantly aware and alert.
- Level 3=Conditional Automated Driving, where the driver is not needed but if necessary, may be requested to take control.
- Level 4=Highly Automated or Tesla’s Full Self-driving feature where driving is optional, and the driver is not required to take control.
- Level 5=Fully automated and the driver is not required but can choose to take over driving responsibilities.
Currently, Tesla’s autopilot is at a level 2. There are no cars available anywhere yet at level 3. But when the world is ready for automated cars that don’t need humans, Tesla’s autopilot installed automobiles will be ready for the world.
How Tesla Autopilot Works
Tesla’s autopilot uses a complex system of eight cameras that are placed in key places around the automobile. It has 12 ultrasonic sensors that have an extended range. Add to that a radar that can see in far in front and a precise digitally controlled brake system. Put them all together with a very powerful onboard computer and you have the basic parts of Tesla’s Autopilot package.
All these cool features available in Tesla’s Autopilot and Enhanced Autopilot, require the hardware and software to enable it. To date, there have been four and a half hardware packages available on Tesla cars from the original Model S to all current models as of 2020. A fourth hardware upgrade is planned for around 2022. Cars built prior to 2016 cannot be retrofitted for autopilot.
- HW0- Early base model with no autopilot
- HW1- Autopilot first available in September of 2014. The Tesla Model S came with:
- One forward-facing camera
- A less powerful radar system
- Twelve ultrasonic sensors
- HW2- Available October of 2016, the new Tesla Model S came with:
- 8 external cameras,
- Twelve improved range ultrasonic sensors
- HW2.5- Available in August of 2017, this hardware package offered
- Improved cameras
- More powerful radar system
- This package now allowed autopilot to be activated -on the Tesla Model 3.
- HW 3- Available in the Spring of 2019, this hardware package offered a more powerful internal computer built with two Tesla chips.
- HW4 is expected to have even more enhanced computing power.
Just like your home computer, the software for your Tesla needs occasional updates. If you have an older model built after 2016, you can purchase the autopilot or FSD package and the newest software will be added to your car’s computer. After that, you receive regular updates through a subscription.
The first Model Tesla S released in 2014, came with just a few safety features. As the autopilot package developed more capabilities, more features were added. AP1 was the first autosteer package. Enhanced Autopilot or EAP, added more unique features. Later, a less costly but less featured package became available as was just AP. Finally, while Full Self-Driving cars are not available, the software is.
|Front Collision Avoidance||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Lane Departure Warning||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Lane Departure Avoidance||Yes*||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance||Yes*||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Side Collision Avoidance||Yes*||No***||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Autosteer, accelerate and brake||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Auto Lane Change||No||Yes**||No||Yes||Yes|
|Read Speed Signs||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Navigate on Autopilot||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Respond to Traffic lights and stop signs||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Full Self Driving||No||No||No||No||Future|
When you are ready to drive with the autopilot engaged, on the Tesla Model S and X, you simply pull the cruise control stalk on the left of the steering column. In Model 3 and Model Y, pull down twice on the gear selector stalk on the right of the steering column. You know that the autopilot is on when a blue steering wheel icon shows on your display.
Don’t forget, the autopilot is designed to assist you when you are driving. You must pay attention and have your hands on the steering wheel at all time.
History of Autonomous Cars
Automobiles are pretty recent inventions. So, it is only natural that you would think self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles were newly formed ideas as well. Well, as much as we’d like to think that the idea of sitting back while your vehicle takes you where you want to go is a 20th century idea, you would be wrong.
Leonardo DaVinci had a concept for a cart that could move along a defined path. Hundreds of years before the first car, this self-driving cart is considered by some as the first robot.
While not a true vehicle, Robert Whitehead invented a self-propelled torpedo in 1868.
In 1925 a radio-controlled driverless car, the Chandler, made its debut by driving down Broadway and Fifth Avenue.
In 1933, Wiley Post flew around the world. Onboard his airplane was a Sperry Gyroscope Autopilot machine called “Mechanical Mike”.
At the 1939 World’s Fair, a gentleman named Bel Geddes showed off his concept of a series of interconnected roads called highways that would cross the United States and make driving from one state to another a breeze. Along those vast, beautiful highways, he predicted we would be sitting back in our fully autonomous cars, enjoying the view as it sped past us.
In 1945, the Teetor cruise control was developed by an engineer that wanted a smoother ride. It was made available to the public in 1958.
In the 1960s the idea focused not so much on the car, but on the roads. Worked was started on research for an electronic roadway where sensors along the road guided your car. When that turned out to be too costly, the developers and engineers once again looked at making the automobile itself driverless.
1961, autonomous cars went to the moon. “The Cart” was initially remote controlled, but technology was developed to allow it to use cameras and sensors to follow a white line on the ground.
In 1977, speeding along at almost twenty miles an hour, Japan’s Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Laboratory developed a prototype autonomous car that used markers on the street to guide it.
Throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990s, research companies like EUREKA and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute worked to develop better cameras, GPS, and computers with the aim of bringing the world the first fully-automated car.
In 2010, Google came to play in the automated car competition. Sebastian Thrun, the director of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence lab, developed seven prototypes and drove over 1 million miles with only minor collisions to report.
Google has joined Tesla and other major car companies to continue to develop and test their concepts cars of the not so distant future.
- General Motors
Even Microsoft and Uber have put their hats into the self-driving car race.
There Have Been Some Bumps in the Road
But all this development has not been easy. In 2018, an Uber test car struck and killed a pedestrian. Also, in 2018, a Tesla Model X car was involved in a fatal car crash in California. Before that, in 2016, A Tesla driver using autopilot was killed when the car failed to see a truck in its way.
Despite these grim examples, there is no doubt that a fully autonomous, self-driving car is in our future. Movies like Maximum Overdrive and Christine give us glimpses of what a car with its own sentient intelligence would be like.
But there are also those shows like
- The Jetsons
- Herbie the Lovebug,
that show us a future where a car with a personality can be your friend.
The Future Holds Autonomous Cars
As our automobiles change, so must the laws that govern how we drive. Already Google has gotten legislature passed that makes autonomous cars street-legal in four states.
Whatever the future holds, there is no doubt that Tesla’s autopilot and Fully self-Driving are examples of how driving in the twenty-first century will change.
The four current models of Tesla cars with autopilot are:
- Tesla Model 3
- Tesla Model S
- Tesla Model X
- Tesla Model Y
They will only be the start to the cars we won’t have to drive in the near future.