So you just bought a Tesla car with Autopilot capabilities, and you’re wondering where the different sensors are located. Maybe you’re still thinking about buying a Tesla and you want to know ahead of time what you’re getting yourself into. Or maybe you’re just curious: how do Tesla’s sensors work? Where are they located? Can they help Tesla cars drive on their own?
Tesla Autopilot sensors are located on all sides of the car. These sensors can detect pedestrians and other vehicles, stoplights, and obstacles in the road. Some of the sensors used include:
- Ultrasonic sensors
Read on to find out more about the sensors used and where they’re located, how Autopilot works, pros and cons of Tesla’s Autopilot, and tips for using it safely.
Where are Tesla Autopilot Sensors Located?
As mentioned above, Tesla’s Autopilot FSD (full self-driving) utilizes sensors on all sides of the car. These sensors perform different functions but work together to keep the car on the road, driving safely.
Despite its name, Autopilot is not fully self-driving yet. It still requires an alert human being behind the wheel to control certain settings and take over manually should any of the sensors fail.
The idea behind Autopilot FSD is that all the necessary parts are in place for the car to become fully self-driving. Tesla is able to update the car’s existing technology as they make upgrades to their system. The ultimate goal is to reach “Level 5 autonomy,” or complete self-driving capabilities, within the next few years.
Some of the sensors around the car include:
- Forward. Tesla’s Autopilot uses several forward-facing cameras and radar for long-distance front-range detection.
- Wide forward. Wide forward cameras provide a shorter range but broader peripheral detection.
- Forward side. Slightly forward-facing side cameras provide extra visibility and help detect new vehicles entering the road.
- Rearward side. Rear-facing side cameras eliminate blind spots, improving safety when changing lanes.
- Rearward. The rear camera allows the car to back and park safely.
- 360 degrees. Ultrasonic sensors provide a 360-degree “bubble” around the car, improving and enhancing the function of the cameras while alerting you to threats close to your vehicle.
How Does Tesla Autopilot Work?
With all those cameras and sensors, it stands to reason that Tesla cars using Autopilot capabilities could do quite a bit that regular cars can’t. What are some of Tesla’s tricks? And how does Autopilot enable the cars to perform these futuristic functions?
It Can Detect Obstacles
Autopilot drives the car at the appropriate speed and keeps a safe distance from other vehicles on the road. It can sense curves in the road and gives a warning if another vehicle moves too close.
It can also detect objects that are too close to the side of the car, such as other cars, pedestrians, animals, and large objects in the road. The Automatic Emergency Braking system will bring the car to a stop if it detects any immediate threats.
It Can Steer, Change Lanes, and Park
The Autosteer function does just what it says: it steers on its own. While it does require the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel, you don’t have to do anything to steer. It will keep the car in the appropriate lane, change lanes when you use the turn signal, and turn at the appropriate intersection if GPS capabilities are enabled.
When changing lanes, the car is able to detect other cars or obstacles in the lane and will wait until they have cleared.
The Autopark function takes the stress and hassle out of parallel parking, as it will do all the work itself. Not only will it park the car so you don’t have to, it can detect available parking spots when driving slowly.
It Has Automatic Cruise Control
The car will drive at the appropriate speed, adjusting to whatever the local speed limit may be and slowing down on curves. It will also adjust to hills and dips in the road. This function works together with the Autosteer function to help the car stay in the correct lane, change lanes, and maintain the proper speed while adjusting to the traffic around the car.
The cruise control function will allow the car to coast along at up to 90 mph, so it is safe to use even at highway speeds. Again, it will adjust automatically to other traffic and obstacles in the road.
What Sensors Does Tesla Autopilot Use?
So we’ve talked a little bit about the different sensors on a Tesla car and the different functions they can help the car perform. But what are the specifics? What forms do these sensors take and what is each sensor used for?
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the cameras, ultrasonic sensors, GPS, and radar functions that are used in Tesla’s Autopilot.
Tesla cars come with eight cameras: three are front-facing, two cover the front sides, two are for the rear sides, and one is for the back. These cameras function like eyes all the way around your car, providing a 360-degree view and constantly providing information about what’s going on outside your car.
The cameras are useful in a couple of different ways. For one, they allow you as the driver to know what’s going on around you at all times. You can view the feed from any of the cameras at any time on your dashboard. In terms of self-driving capabilities, the cameras are connected with the other sensors, all of which allow the car to perform certain functions automatically.
Tesla cars have twelve ultrasonic sensors spread out along the front and back of the car. These sensors guard a radius of eight meters around the car, scanning for obstacles and helping the car to respond accordingly.
The ultrasonic system helps the car stay in the correct lane, indicates when it’s safe to change lanes, and let you know when there’s a vehicle in a blind spot. The sensors are not affected by speed, so they work just as well on the highways as they do in a neighborhood.
GPS systems are built into every Tesla car. The system can track where your car is on the road at all times. Based on your intended destination, the GPS will guide your car toward the most efficient route, suggest lane changes, and navigate around slower traffic.
The radar on Tesla cars fans out from the front, detecting the presence and location of vehicles, pedestrians, streetlights, animals, and any other obstacles that may be present. The radar functions in fog, rain, snow, dust, and darkness, making it an invaluable addition to the car when cameras are less effective.
The radar can detect potential threats up to 160 meters in front of the car. The radar detection allows the car to perform a number of functions, including safe spacing between vehicles and emergency braking.
Pros and Cons of Tesla Autopilot
Tesla’s Autopilot system sounds pretty cool, right? It certainly does include a lot of great and useful features. Systems such as the Autosteer, Autopark, and emergency brakes are great for taking some of the stress out of driving.
Of course, no product or system is perfect. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the top pros and cons of Tesla’s Autopilot.
Pro: Autopilot Makes Driving Easier
This is probably an obvious one. With all the neat features like autosteer, traffic-aware cruise control, and advanced navigating, your job as the driver just got a whole lot easier.
If you’re the type of person who gets nervous behind the wheel, who stresses over trying to see in all directions, or who struggles with the multitasking involved with regular driving, you may really benefit from Tesla’s autopilot. Using one of its automatic features, or several of them at once, will help reduce your stress levels and drive more confidently.
Plus, if you struggle with navigating, the GPS system will not only tell you where to go; it will help you get there. Just put in the address and follow the prompts, being sure to pay attention to any advanced directions the system may give you.
Pro: Tesla Sensors Provide Additional Safety Measures
Another great benefit of Tesla Autopilot is the increase in safety measures over regular driving. With a normal car, you can’t possibly be looking in all directions at once, so you may not be able to see every threat or obstacle that comes up.
Tesla’s cameras and other sensors provide 360 degrees of monitoring and will trigger an alert or warning of whatever may pose a threat to your vehicle.
Though Tesla claims you are “7 times less likely to be in an accident” when using Autopilot, it’s important to realize that it is not ideal for every type of road. There are times it is safer to drive with the Autopilot features turned off.
That said, using Autopilot to assist your driving, rather than sitting back and letting it do all the work, is the safest way to use it no matter what roads you’re driving on.
Pro: Tesla Autopilot is Efficient
All Tesla cars are electric and have an estimated range of between 300 and 400 miles. So not only will you be helping the environment by replacing your fuel emissions, you’ll be able to travel as far, if not farther, between charges.
Con: Tesla Autopilot is not Fully Autonomous
This is important to remember. Though Tesla cars are built to have full self-driving capacity in the future, they do not have the necessary technology right now. Autopilot does not currently enable cars to drive themselves.
According to Forbes, people who don’t pay attention “are at higher risk using Autopilot.” Treating your Tesla as a fully self-driving vehicle could prove to be a costly mistake.
It’s extremely important that you pay attention to your surroundings and operate the vehicle responsibly even when it’s in Autopilot mode.
Con: Tesla Autopilot Sensors May Make Mistakes
Though 360-degree cameras and sensors may seem less prone to human error, they are not flawless. Accidents can happen if the sensors fail to register a threat and you are not paying attention.
TechRepublic reports a fatal crash involving a Tesla car in Autopilot which collided with a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer was making a left turn across oncoming traffic, and the Tesla plowed into it.
According to a report issued by Tesla regarding the accident, “Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”
Even the best of technologies can fail. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to pay attention to your surroundings even when using Autopilot.
Con: Tesla Cars are Expensive
This probably comes as no surprise, but Tesla cars can be pretty pricey. Depending on the model and version, you may end up paying anywhere between $35,000 and $124,000 for your new Tesla.
Of course, you get a lot of awesome features for the price, and in the long run you may end up saving money since you won’t have to pay for gas. But the up-front cost may be a bit of a deterrent for the average driver.
Tips for Using Tesla Autopilot Safely
If you own or decide to buy a Tesla and you want to use the Autopilot features, there are some important safety tips you should keep in mind. Some of these tips are important whether you’re using Autopilot or not.
Remember, Tesla cars on Autopilot do not completely drive themselves. You are still responsible for operating the vehicle safely. With that in mind, let’s check out these safety tips below.
This cannot be stated enough. If you’re too tired, stressed, or upset to drive a regular car safely, you probably shouldn’t drive your Tesla in Autopilot.
You must be able to respond to threats or obstacles even if the Autopilot sensors fail. For many, this requires an extra level of alertness. Never allow yourself to be lazy or too relaxed behind the wheel. It’s when you aren’t paying attention that problems are most likely to arise.
It’s also important to remember that Tesla cars will not stop operating in Autopilot even if the road you’re on becomes unsafe for Autopilot. You will need to make the decision of when it’s safe to use Autopilot and when it would be better to operate the vehicle manually.
Keep Your Hands on the Steering Wheel
Despite Autopilot’s Autosteer function, you are expected to keep your hands on the steering wheel. The car will sound an alarm if you don’t.
Since you don’t have to steer while using Autosteer, it’s okay to simply rest your hands on the wheel. That way, you can avoid setting off the alarm, and your hands will already be in place if you need to take the car out of Autopilot.
Wear a Seatbelt
Whether using Autopilot or not, wearing a seatbelt is always a good idea, and it’s required in many states. When using Autopilot, wearing a seatbelt is an extra level of security and protection should any of the cameras or sensors fail. It will also help by keeping you safe in case Autopilot has to activate the emergency braking system.
Use Autopilot Only Where it is Safe to Do So
Operating in Autopilot is safest on highways and interstates since there are fewer intersections and you’re less likely to encounter pedestrians. That said, because you drive at higher speeds, it’s still important to pay attention to traffic and road conditions and take the car off Autopilot if circumstances deteriorate.
It may also be safe to use Autopilot on city streets assuming traffic is not too congested and the roads are clear. The more obstacles the sensors have to keep track of, the more likely they are to fail. Always keep your eyes on the road and be ready to deactivate Autopilot if necessary.
Know Your Destination and Route Ahead of Time
This is, of course, helpful whether you’re driving in Autopilot or not, but it may not be as obvious as it seems.
When you leave the house, you probably have a general idea of where you’re going. It’s a good idea to take it a step further and think about the route you plan to use. Will you be mostly on the highways? Does your route involve a lot of congested, narrow, or curvy roads?
Planning ahead will help you know when you need to take your car off Autopilot. It may also help you make adjustments if your GPS starts taking down a route you’d rather not take.
Tesla Autopilot sensors allow your car to perform a number of helpful driver-assist functions. These sensors are located all around the car but especially at the front and back. They work together to provide 360-degree coverage and enable several different automatic features.
Keep in mind that Tesla cars don’t drive themselves, and you will need to remain alert while driving in Autopilot. As long as you drive responsibly, the added safety features of Autopilot will help to give you a safe and enjoyable driving experience.