Autopilot is a cutting-edge driver assistance system that allows a car to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within its lane. This is a feature that the American automotive and energy company uses for its electric vehicle, Tesla.
The Tesla autopilot explained: In short, the Tesla autopilot is a very advanced driver assistance feature on these vehicles. This makes your vehicle capable of self-parking, lane centering, lane changing, emergency braking, and other capabilities. This feature is meant to reduce the workload of the driver and provide extra safety.
The autopilot capabilities are meant to be used with the driver’s full attention. The driver should keep their hands on the wheel and always be prepared to take over. With that in mind, sit back and enjoy the ride. Here is what you should know about the amazing Tesla autopilot.
Can A Tesla Drive Itself?
There are two different Tesla packages you can purchase for your vehicle: autopilot or the enhanced autopilot. Neither feature can actually cause the car to drive itself fully.
When Navigate on Autopilot is activated, a warning screen will pop up, stating, “Navigate on Autopilot does not make your vehicle autonomous.” Drivers who take their hands off the wheel risk disengaging the autopilot feature.
The vehicle on advanced autopilot can accomplish basic tasks like:
- Adjust speed
- Lane changing
- Detect nearby objects
Tesla’s basic autopilot package allows the vehicle to:
- Match speed of the car in front
- Engage in emergency braking
This enhanced autopilot feature is designed to help with highway driving, and the driver should always remain alert. Tesla incorporated these features as an assistant to the driver and serve as an enhancement, not a replacement.
Although the package states that the Tesla autopilot is a “full self-driving” package, the car cannot fully operate autonomously. But the company is planning on making it fully capable by the end of the year.
Can A Tesla Park Itself?
Tesla has an autonomous parking feature that relies on various sensors that allow the car to detect a parking space and park itself, which comes in handy for those tight spaces.
When the driver is driving slowly on a public road, a parking icon will appear if the vehicle’s position or surroundings are appropriate for a driving path. When driving below 10 mph, the autopark can detect perpendicular parking positions that are at least 9.5 feet wide with a vehicle on each side.
Once the Autopark has determined a parking spot, the driver can confirm it is safe by shifting into reverse and tapping the “Start Autopark” button.
If the driver taps on the brake while in autopark mode, the vehicle will pause the parking process.
Autopark is unlikely to work in a few situations:
- If the road is sloped
- During poor visibility, such as rain or snow
- If one of the ultrasonic sensors are damaged or dirty
- Curb cannot be detected or is made of something other than stone
- The parking spot is directly adjacent to a wall or pillar
Autopark sensors are affected by other electrical equipment that generates ultrasonic waves. There will be situations in which the vehicle may not be able to steer properly, so it is always important to take control if needed.
If the driver needs to, they can also press a pause button, and the vehicle will remain paused until the resume button is pressed.
There are several factors that can cause a Tesla to abort the autopark. Many of them have to do with driver activity that signals autopark to disengage:
- Driver manually moves the steering wheel
- Driver changes gear
- Driver hits cancel on the touchscreen
- The parking sequence is more than seven moves
- The door is opened
- Driver presses brake or gas pedal
Here is a video of the Autopark feature.
Tesla’s Summon Feature
Some Tesla’s are equipped with the feature, Summon. This allows the driver to have the vehicle park itself while the driver is not in the vehicle. Summon also allows the driver to stand close by and have the vehicle back out of the parking spot and drive itself over to the owner.
This feature uses data from the ultrasonic sensors in order to move the vehicle 39 feet forward or reverse in or out of a parking space.
Summon allows the driver to customize how they want it to work in order to suit their preferences. Some of the options are:
- Bumper Clearance: This is the distance the driver would want the Summon to stop the Tesla from a detected object, like a garage wall.
- Summon Distance: This is a set maximum distance the owner would like the Tesla to travel when entering or exiting a parking space.
- Side Clearance: This is the option to specify how much side clearance the driver wants to allow. For example, the “tight” option allows for the vehicle to enter and exit very narrow parking spaces. But Tesla does warn the owner that narrow spaces limit the ability of the sensors to accurately detect obstacles, which increases the chances of damage to the vehicle.
- Require Continuous Press: Summon normally requires that you press and hold down a button on the mobile app to move the vehicle during the parking process. However, the owner is able to change that setting to avoid this.
- Use Auto HomeLink: This is a setting that allows the owner to have a programmed HomeLink device, like a garage door, be opened or closed when the Tesla enters or exits the parking space while in Summon mode. Tesla warns that it is important to make sure the vehicle is fully out of the way of the garage door before HomeLink lowers the door.
When using Summon, the vehicle has to be within 39 feet of the parking space to ensure that it has a straight path to or from the space. When the driver initiates Summon, they will have to specify if the Tesla has to reverse or drive forward.
Limitations of Summon
Summon will self-shift the vehicle into Park if the parking is complete or it has detected an obstacle. Summon will shift into Park when:
- It has reached its maximum of 39 feet
- It detects an obstacle
- The reverse or forward button is released
- Any button is pressed to manually stop Summon
Summon will not attempt to steer around an obstacle in the way. Obstacles that are lower than bumper level or narrow like a bicycle cannot be detected by the sensors. So, it is important to be prepared to stop Summon at any time.
Summon is not able to operate in these types of situations:
- The driving path is sloped
- A raised edge is detected
- One or more ultrasonic sensors are damaged or dirty
Here is where you can watch the Tesla Summon to the driver.
Can A Tesla Parallel Park Itself?
Using a combination of ultrasonic sensors, cameras, and radars, Teslas are even able to parallel park themselves.
Just like when a Tesla park perpendicularly, a “P” will appear on the touchscreen when the vehicle indicates that there is a spot to park parallel.
- For a Tesla to park parallel, the driver needs to pull up next to the parked vehicle in front until that “P” indicator appears.
- Then thee driver will then shift into reverse with their foot on the brake.
- Once the driver is ready for the Tesla to park itself, they can hit the start button and remove their foot from the brake.
The driver’s hands need to be removed from the steering wheel during this process as to not interfere with the automatic turning of the wheel. When the parking is complete, a chime will sound, and “Autopark Complete” will appear on the touchscreen.
Limitations of Self-Parallel Parking
The parking feature is not able to operate in these situations:
- One or more sensor is damaged or dirty
- Weather conditions like fog, rain, and snow
- An object, like a bike rack, is interfering with the sensor
The parking feature may not function correctly in these types of situations:
- The object is located below 8 inches
- The object is soft or sound-absorbing
- The sensors are affected by nearby electrical equipment that generates ultrasonic waves
- The object is located too close to the sensor
- A bumper is misaligned or damaged
Tesla Autopilot And Enhanced Autopilot Capabilities
Most of the driver-assist features are mainly designed for help while driving on a highway.
All new Tesla vehicles made after 2016 come with the sensors around the vehicle. These sensors include cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and radars that allow the vehicle to understand and react to its surroundings. Each vehicle comes standard with these functions:
- Lane assistance
- Collision avoidance assistance
- Speed assistance
- Auto high beam
Autopilot is an optional feature that unlocks new capabilities of the vehicle, including:
- Autosteer: Assists in steering within a clearly marked lane and uses traffic-aware cruise control
- Traffic-aware cruise control: Matches the speed of the car to the surrounding traffic
- Assisted lane change: Vehicle will change lanes once it is safe to do so after the driver turns on the blinker towards the desired lane
The enhanced autopilot or full self-driving feature has even more advanced capabilities than the basic autopilot package:
- Navigate on autopilot: Guides the vehicle from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, suggests lane change, automatically engages turn signals, takes correct exit.
- Auto lane change: Assists in moving to adjacent lanes on the highway
- Autopark: Helps parallel or perpendicular park
- Summon: Moves vehicle in and out of parking spaces
- Smart Summon: Navigates vehicle out of parking spaces and to the driver in parking lot
The Tesla Lane Assistance comes with three capabilities:
- Alerts the driver if they drift from their lane, called Lane Departure
- Warns driver if there is an object in their blind spot
- Intervenes if it believes the driver may drift into and object while going between 30mph and 80mph
Lane Departure is the only feature that can be turned on or off. While on, the steering wheel will vibrate when it believes the driver is drifting out of their lane.
Tesla’s blind spot feature will turn the pictured lanes on the display red if it detects an object in the driver’s blind spot. This warning appears if the driver turns on a turn signal.
The steering intervention works on highways where the speed is between 30 mph and 80 mph, and the lane markings are clearly visible. This function will automatically steer the vehicle into a safer position within its lane if it detects a possible collision.
Check out this video to see it in action!
Collision Avoidance Assistance
The Collision Avoidance Assistance provides four capabilities:
- Forward collision warning – If the vehicle determines there is a high risk of a frontal collision, a visual and audible warning will be provided
- Side collision warning – The driver will be given a warning if there is a possibility of a collision along the side of the vehicle
- Automatic emergency braking – If there is an expectant frontal collision, the brakes will automatically be applied to help reduce or avoid impact
- Obstacle-aware acceleration – If the vehicle detects an object in its driving path, the speed will automatically be reduced
The Forward Collision and Side Collision Warning feature utilizes the sensors and cameras that are placed around the vehicle and not only detects cars in front and side of the vehicle, but also motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The forward or side collision warning is the first alert that is given to the driver, if the driver doesn’t take action, the other systems will take over.
The Automatic Emergency Braking uses the forward-facing cameras and radar to decide if a collision is imminent. The Tesla AEB will apply brakes to reduce the severity or prevent the collision. Here you can see a demonstration on how theTesla is able to brake itself for a pedestrian.
Obstacle-aware Acceleration is used to reduce the impact of a collision. If the vehicle detects an object in its path, it will automatically reduce the power to the motor to avoid potential damage.
The Speed Assist feature uses GPS and speed limit signs to help determine what Tesla’s position and speed should be at. When the driver is exceeding the speed limit, the Speed Assist will alert the driver with a chime.
There is also an option on the touchscreen where the driver can tap a speed limit sign to automatically set the speed limit to the current posting.
Auto High Beam
Depending on the surroundings, the Auto High Beam setting can automatically turn the high beams on or off. If the vehicle detects that there is enough light outside or if there is another vehicle approaching, the high beams will be turned off. If the surroundings are dark, the high beams will be automatically turned back on.
When the autopilot system detects that the lane markings are clear, the autosteer will work in conjunction with the traffic-aware cruise control function. While the driver’s hands remain on the wheel, the vehicle will allow the autosteer to steer the Tesla.
Traffic-Aware Cruise Control
This is a function that is similar to the standard cruise control of other vehicles. It allows the driver to set a speed that they would like to remain at. The difference is that it is capable of speeding up or slowing down automatically in order to keep up with the flow of traffic.
This feature works in speeds up to 90 mph and also works in stop-and-go traffic. Tesla owners have found that this comes in handy during rush hour traffic where the traffic is constantly stopping and resuming.
Assisted Lane Changes
When the driver of the Tesla turns on the turn signal towards the lane they want to go towards, the vehicle can determine if it is safe to do so and then automatically change lanes.
Navigate On Autopilot
This feature allows Tesla to navigate itself on freeways and highways that don’t have cross-traffic intersections. The driver is able to enter a destination into the GPS and engage the Navigate on the autopilot option.
The vehicle will then be able to automatically change lanes with the driver’s confirmation and follow the speed of traffic.
Tesla is planning on offering other capabilities that they are hoping to be available at the end of 2019 or early 2020. These are:
- Traffic light and stop sign detection
- Automatic driving on city streets
Teslas are able to anticipate possible collisions with vehicles, pedestrians, animals, debris, etc. by using the sensors and onboard computer system to build a detailed picture of its surroundings. These sensors can also detect road markings and lanes.
These sensors include:
- Forward-looking radar – This is the primary sensor used to detect the vehicle’s surroundings. Radar can see up to 160m ahead of the car.
- Cameras – As a backup to the radar, the windshield has four forward-facing cameras: a narrow camera can capture images 250m in front, the main camera can capture 150m in front, a wide-angle camera that captures 60m in front, and a camera that captures images 80m in front and to the side.
There is also a camera mounted above the rear license plate, in each door pillar, and each front bender.
- Sonar – A 360-degree ultrasonic sonar is able to detect obstacles in an eight-meter radius around the Tesla. Working at any speed, these sonar sensors are able to detect objects like children, dogs, and garbage cans. This feature assists in switching lanes because it is able to detect when there is a vehicle in the driver’s blind spot.
- GPS – The GPS system is able to detect the vehicle’s position in the road.
While the Tesla is on autopilot, after 45 seconds, the touch screen will display a note when the vehicle hasn’t detected the driver, and they will need to move the wheel. After 15 more seconds, the system will begin to flash a warning on the screen. After another 15 seconds, the system will begin to beep loudly.
After a total of 1:30 seconds, the vehicle will sound an alarm and flash a “take over” message over the touchscreen and slow the car down while turning on its hazard lights.
Once the driver has taken over, the autopilot function will be disabled. There are three other ways to disable autopilot:
- Twist the wheel slightly to the left or right
- Press the brake pedal
- Press up on the right control stalk
Autopilot can mostly be either turned on or turned off. But the driver can set the speed by turning a scroll on the steering wheel. The distance between vehicles in front of the Tesla can also be adjusted by using the same scroll. These can be done while driving.
There are other autopilot settings that can be adjusted while the car is in Park.
Autopilot And Weather
It is possible for autopilot to still work in inclement weather as long as the vehicle’s camera can sense the lane markers. In case of inclement weather, a message will display on the touchscreen stating that the weather may cause the system to be limited.
Autopilot will most likely not be able to be engaged if there is snow covering the ground or extremely heavy rain that will cause the system to have trouble finding lane markers.
If at any time the driver feels uncomfortable with how the autopilot is working, they should stop using it immediately and resume when the circumstances improve.
Difference Between Autopilot And Enhanced Autopilot
Autopilot is a suite of technologies that form a guided cruise control in order to assist with the driver’s safety. The system is able to gather data through all of its surrounding cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and radar to create an adaptive cruise control system.
This system makes it possible to maintain the vehicle’s pace relative to other vehicles while keeping the Tesla centered in its own lane.
All Tesla vehicles come equipped with the basic package that includes lane assistance, collision avoidance assistance, speed assistance, and auto high beam. The added autopilot package includes auto steer, assisted lane change, and traffic-aware cruise control.
Tesla owners can then decide if they want to upgrade to the enhanced autopilot package, which includes everything from the basic package as well as auto park, auto lane change, navigate on autopilot, and summon.
There are many factors that can impact the performance of the Tesla Autopilot. These include:
- Poor invisibility due to heavy rain, fog, or snow
- Bright light due to oncoming headlights or direct sunlight
- Obstruction from objects mounted onto the vehicle, like a bike rake
- Obstruction caused by applying an excessive amount of paint or adhesive products
- Narrow roads
- Curved roads
- Damaged or misaligned bumper
- Extremely hot or cold temperatures
Before enabling autopilot, you must agree to “keep your hands on the wheel at all times” and to always “maintain control and responsibility of your vehicle.” The autopilot feature is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used by fully attentive drivers.
The autopilot or enhanced autopilot with self-driving capabilities does not make the Tesla vehicle autonomous or fully self-driving. The vehicle has self-driving capabilities and is not fully self-driving. So, an owner of a Tesla can’t turn on the navigation system and then take a nap at the wheel.
The autopilot system will deliver an increasing series of audible and visual warnings when it does not detect the driver’s movement. If these warnings are ignored or the driver has a health-related emergency, the car will slow down to a stop with the hazard lights. Once this has happened, the driver gets locked out of being able to use the Autopilot feature for the remaining trip.
Autopilot Safety Features
Any Tesla vehicle made after September 2014 comes standard with active safety features in order to elevate protection at all times. These safety features include:
- Automatic emergency braking – Brakes become applied when the Tesla vehicle detects another car or object that may impact the Tesla
- Front collision warning – Warns of possible collisions with stopped or slower-moving vehicles in front of the Tesla
- Side collision warning – Warns of possible collisions with cars or obstacles that are alongside the Tesla
- Obstacle aware acceleration – Automatically reduces the speed of the Tesla when a car or obstacle is detected in front of the vehicle
- Blind-spot monitoring – Warns when a car or obstacle is in the Tesla’s blind spot while the driver is signaling a lane change
- Lane departure avoidance – Provides corrective steering in order to keep the Tesla in between the lines of the intended lane
- Emergency lane departure avoidance – Autosteers the Tesla back into the driving lane if the vehicle detects there could be a collision
These active safety features that the Tesla vehicles hold are to assist the driver in preventing possible collisions. This system cannot respond to every situation, so it is the driver’s responsibility to remain alert, drive safely, and be in control of the vehicle at all times.
Final Words About Tesla Autopilot
The autopilot system uses cameras and sensors all around the Tesla vehicle in order to sense the environment around it. It is also to help provide awareness to the driver that they typically would not have had alone. The vehicle is equipped with a powerful onboard computer that is able to process these inputs in a matter of milliseconds in order to make the owner’s driver safer and less stressful.