Tesla cars are market leaders when it comes to the luxury electric vehicle industry. The company’s focus on clean energy and forward-thinking engineering are stand-out elements behind the success of its models. The sustainability at the core of Teslas is one of their biggest draws, and this leads to constantly evolving engineering that produces futuristic features available in the present.
What Teslas have self driving? All new Teslas are equipped with Autopilot. Autopilot eases the driving experience by offering partial self-driving functionality. The Tesla team is also hard at work on creating a full self-driving capability that is due to be rolled out by the end of 2020 but may suffer from further delays.
In the following sections, we will explore the different Tesla models in more detail. We will also look further at the Autopilot feature and the upcoming full self-driving functionality.
Which Tesla Cars Are Self-Driving?
Tesla currently offers four main vehicle models: the Model S, the Model X, the Model Y, and the Model 3. Their first vehicle model, the 2008 Roadster, has been retired. A 2020 prototype of the Roadster was unveiled in 2017 and aims to be delivered by 2022.
The Tesla Model S came out in 2012. This model is a four-door luxury hatchback that can seat up to five people. Its Long Range Plus version leads the ranks when it comes to electric car batteries with a 402-mile EPA range.
Like all other Tesla vehicle models, the Model S has the Autopilot feature, which provides driver assistance and allows for partial self-driving. Its acceleration goes from 0 to 60mph in 3.9 seconds on the standard version and in 2.4 seconds on the Performance version with the Cheetah launch mode (source).
The Model S also rivals fuel-based cars in terms of energy durability.
The Model X is Tesla’s luxury and all-electric take on an SUV. Launched in 2015, it has been available on the market only in its Long Range Plus version since February 2020. The Model X is built for efficiency and practicality, but also to catch the eye.
The most impactful detail in its design is the inclusion of the falcon wing rear doors. These doors make the Model X instantly recognizable in any setting. The X is also known for being able to seat up to seven people. The seating adapts according to transport or storage needs. The Model X has the Autopilot feature and also benefits from a visually captivating command center with a 17-inch console touch screen.
The Tesla Model Y was announced in 2019. This vehicle model, as well as its Performance and Long Range AWD versions, is currently in production and will be rolled out throughout 2020 and 2021. The Model Y will be able to seat up to seven people with the possibility of adding an extra third row of seats.
The Model Y is meant to appeal specifically to luxury SUV owners looking for a switch to all-electric cars. The Tesla Autopilot is also a feature available to the Model Y. The Model Y’s Autopilot capability has been tested on a racetrack and had a great deal of success around most of the circuit.
The Tesla Model 3 was released in 2017. The Model 3 is a four-door sedan and its standard version is the most affordable option on Tesla’s vehicle catalog, making it one of the company’s best selling products. The Model 3’s design is highly minimalistic and the command center touchscreen controls all of the vehicle’s operations as well as acting as a key.
The Model 3 also has the Autopilot capability which offers comprehensive driving assistance such as automatic lane changes (source). The Model 3 performed impressively in the highest-caliber safety tests. It now holds the title of being the most sold electric vehicle in history at more than half a million vehicles.
The 2008 Roadster set a series of trends: it was the first fully electric car to withstand trips of 200 miles on one charge. It was also the first fully electric car to be fitted with lithium-ion battery cells, and the first fully electric car able to be driven legally on highways.
In 2018, the original Roadster achieved another first: getting launched into space. The live stream of the event aired on YouTube, where it received more than two million views on the day. This car is not equipped with Autopilot.
The 2020 version of the 2008 Roadster was announced during a Tesla Semi event in November 2017. The upcoming fully electric vehicle is designed as a 2+2 coupé. It includes a removable glass roof, three electric motors, torque vectoring, and all-wheel drive.
Tesla announced pre-orders would be available for the 2020 Roadster at the Tesla Semi event where the news broke. Test drives were also offered on the day to those making pre-orders. Tesla is looking to potentially break speed records with the upcoming Roadster and may include the option of a ‘SpaceX package’. It is rumored that this package would boost both speed and maneuverability.
Understanding What Tesla Autopilot Does
The Tesla Autopilot is a driving assistance feature that Tesla has created. It is installed on every new Tesla car and it includes partial to full self-driving features that are meant to help the driver remove the pressure of certain routine tasks.
Autopilot currently includes the addition of eight 360 degree surround cameras. These cameras can cover up to 250m of the area immediately next to the car. Autopilot also receives its information from twelve ultrasonic sensors. On top of that, it has a highly efficient radar that provides data to the car even in poor visibility conditions.
The Tesla company highlights that Autopilot is currently at a stage that does require the driver’s full attention while it is operating. Many features have been rolled out for Autopilot through the years with Tesla’s software updates. These features are in continuous evolution.
- Self-parking. The Autopark function can aid with perpendicular and parallel parking regardless of which way the vehicle is facing.
- Steering. The Autosteer function helps with lane-keeping (remaining in the same lane) and lane changes. It can also assist with freeway interchanges.
- Summoning. Initially, the Summon function allowed the driver to use the smartphone app or the key fob to get the car in and out of narrow spaces. Now, the Smart Summon function allows line of sight car retrieval. The line of sight area extends to 150 feet. Smart Summon is used through the Tesla app.
- Cruise Control. The Tesla Autopilot cruise control feature is traffic aware. Cruise control responds to traffic alerts and stops signs along the route. If no input is received from the driver, cruise control will also slow down and/or stop the car according to the information it detects.
Different Versions of Tesla Autopilot Hardware
Tesla Autopilot has had four versions so far:
- Hardware 1. Included forward-facing radar, windshield camera, bumper sensors, and the MobilEye EyeQ3 computer. Lane change assistance can be provided if the driver initiates the action. Launched in 2014.
- Hardware 2. Comes with eight surround cameras, enhanced forward-facing radar, twelve ultrasonic sensors, and an NVIDIA Drive PX2 GPU. Launched in 2016.
- Hardware 2.5. A secondary processor was added to Hardware 2 for the sake of reliability and increased efficiency. Dashcam and sentry mode features were also added.
- Hardware 3. The current Tesla Autopilot hardware version. Launched in April 2019. Comes with the Tesla-made ‘system on a chip’. Improved efficiency and accuracy. Necessary for the full self-driving package but not for the enhanced Autopilot features. Includes Mali GPU, two Neural Network Accelerators, and twelve ARM Cortex A72 CPUs.
Tesla Autopilot Benefits
The Tesla Autopilot capability has been created to increase driver safety and to assist the driver. Tesla’s constantly evolving Autopilot technology is driven in great part by an urge to reduce fatalities on the road (source). There are many benefits to this capability, both in terms of its present and its future features. We will explore some of the main benefits below.
- Practicality. The Tesla Autopilot helps the driver with various mundane tasks, such as parking and steering. This comes in especially handy during long trips on the freeway and dealing with narrow parking spaces.
- Evolution. All new Tesla cars have the Autopilot feature included, and updates are constantly being rolled out. Previously released cars can also access the hardware upgrade required for the Autopilot full self-driving capability for an added price. As a nod to the near future, Tesla is looking to achieve the goal of a full self-driving feature with a greater degree of autonomy. If reached, this goal promises a range of new features for Tesla cars.
- Safety. In its commitment to reducing driver deaths, Tesla has designed the Autopilot capability to best assist the driver with as much data as possible, informed by the cameras, sensors, and radar used by the system to gather information. Most Autopilot features are not enabled by default and require the driver’s prior agreement to specific safety measures.
These safety measures involve keeping hands on the wheel at all times and ensuring full supervision while Autopilot is enabled. Furthermore, the Autosteer function will send three audiovisual warnings for an hour if no input has been received. After the third warning, Autopilot will disable itself for the rest of that particular trip.
Tesla Autopilot Disadvantages
The Tesla Autopilot capability is a technology that is being evolved, not a finished product. This can provide several disadvantages.
- Status. The Autopilot has not reached its planned potential yet and is not currently in a fully self-driving state.
- Supervision. The Autopilot features that have been rolled out are not fully autonomous. They require the driver’s full attention and presence. The system can certainly assist the driver but requires constant supervision.
- Pricing. For Tesla models that came out before Autopilot was introduced, the hardware upgrade required to support it comes at an additional price. The same will be true in the case of full self-driving becoming a reality. The price tag for the upcoming full self-driving capability has been consistently increasing since it was announced. According to Elon Musk, the technology will be worth far more than its current estimation when it reaches its finalized stage.
- Braking. There have been reports that the Tesla Autopilot brakes react later than would be expected (source). Two Tesla customers have also reported that their cars crashed due to the Autopilot brakes completely failing to engage, but the company has disputed these claims.
- Regulatory concerns. The Tesla Autopilot is currently designed to not detect stationary objects because this would prevent the system from working correctly. This has caused a degree of safety concerns in the circles of various safety boards. The Autopilot’s inability to identify stationary vehicles, particularly emergency ones, seems to have been the cause behind several crashes (source).
Full Self Driving Capability and the Future
Full self-driving capability is planned as an upgrade for the Tesla Autopilot. The upgrade would become part of all Tesla cars going forward if it is successfully released. Elon Musk has stated that the progress on this feature is advanced. It is planned to be rolled out by the end of 2020 but its release has already been delayed several times.
The company has cautioned that regulatory and safety tests may prolong the timeframe in which it will start being delivered. Critics remain in doubt over the possibility of this happening in practice. Nevertheless, Musk has also spoken about being able to drive from his home to his workplace almost without any driver intervention while he’s been testing out the alpha version of the full self-driving capability feature.
For the moment, the Tesla Autopilot has benefited from quite a few recent updates. The 3.0 Self Driving Computer and the new Navigate on Autopilot have been boosted to the ongoing process of constructing full self-driving.
Once a full self-driving capability has been achieved, Tesla plans to use that feature to create autonomous taxis, also called ‘robotaxis’. These taxis are planned as fully self-driven and capable of driving themselves wherever they are in the world. No car has managed to achieve such a level of autonomy at this point.
Tesla is also working on further updates to the Autopilot and full self-driving schemes. At the moment, Tesla Autopilot is only advised to be used on interstate highways and particularly on limited access ones. The upcoming updates include features that are tailor-made for driving in cities and aim to enhance the urban experience while removing the pressure of it from the driver.
How Did Tesla Get to Self-Driving Cars?
Tesla began its journey in 2003 when it was initially known as Tesla Motors. At the helm was a group of engineers: Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning, Ian Wright, Elon Musk, and J. B. Straubel. Tesla wanted to show the world that a range of luxury electric cars is possible and that nothing would need to be compromised for the sake of sustainability.
Tesla’s long-term mission is to continue producing forward-thinking sustainable products that highlight the importance of renewable energy. Elon Musk currently serves as the CEO of Tesla. The company prides itself on standing out in the automobile industry for a variety of reasons.
- Products. Tesla vehicles are consistently at the forefront of the electric car market. They promote their range in a way that is catered to customers in the know. All orders are done online according to each driver’s exact specifications. The engineering involved in Tesla vehicles is both forward-thinking and eye-catching, which draws further interest.
- Development. All Tesla vehicle models receive software updates as soon as they are rolled out. This makes the cars feel new and improved without the need to invest in a more recent model.
- Sustainability. Tesla aims to attract the luxury vehicle market but its commitment to renewable energy and a solar-powered future is also very much on-trend (source). All Tesla cars are fully green and leave no pollution. There are far fewer pieces involved in the manufacturing of the vehicles, which further facilitates the process.
- Branding. Tesla creates huge and memorable events when it comes to unveiling new features and products. These events create waves of interest and attention that far surpass any other type of advertising.
All of the current Tesla vehicle models benefit from the Autopilot capability. Autopilot doesn’t allow for full self-driving yet, but it does provide driver assistance. The features of the driver assistance can be partially self-driving leading toward full self-driving. They are also used to prepare the planned future arrival of full self-driving as an upgrade to the current Autopilot system. This upgrade is planned for the end of 2020 but can potentially see itself delayed again.
Once the full self-driving feature is introduced, it will become available to all Tesla models. Every current Tesla model has the necessary hardware already on board to support the fully self-driving software update. When this finally roles out to new and existing Teslas alike, it will change the way we look at self-driving cars for good.