As one of the most advanced driver assistance systems globally, the Tesla Autopilot is constantly learning and processing new information. With literally millions of different scenarios that can be encountered on the road today, Autopilot must make many of its decisions in milliseconds. Many people rightfully wonder how it does that.
The Autopilot system is constantly gathering data from every Tesla driver on the road and using that to train its algorithms. Once an algorithm is written, it is then tested on the road before being added as a software update. In this way, Autopilot is constantly learning and getting better.
While Tesla vehicles are not yet fully autonomous, the company is hopeful that its cars will one day legally drive themselves. In order for that to happen, the system must learn every possible scenario and develop a range of solutions that can be acted upon in an instant. Continue reading to learn how Autopilot is now in the process of learning to do exactly that.
How Does Tesla Autopilot Use Data?
Since the introduction of Autopilot, Tesla has asked its drivers to allow the vehicle to send it data. While this is not mandatory, the reality is that most drivers have been more than willing to allow their data to be automatically uploaded to the company. This data is then used to allow Tesla to test specific algorithms and improve the system over time.
Without this data, Tesla would be unable to determine what fixes and improvements need to be made to the Autopilot software. When the company discovers through data that a particular variable has been unaccounted for, programmers can add that to Autopilot and push through an upgrade automatically.
Software upgrades to the Tesla Autopilot have become commonplace. The company can send one through at virtually any time that it desires. This is why the data that it receives from drivers around the country has become so valuable.
How Does Tesla Collect the Data?
Data collection by Tesla dates back to 2017. This is when the company began asking all of its drivers to authorize them to receive videos from the cameras that power the Autopilot system itself. As mentioned, most drivers accepted this request. To date, Tesla has now received volumes of data that it can analyze to make continual improvements.
When a new Tesla is sold today, drivers can still automatically opt into the sharing of data. Once received, that information is then fed back into the main Autopilot server. Tesla has designed its artificial intelligence interface in the form of neural networks. It uses the data that it receives to improve upon the efficacy of those neural networks.
How Does This Impact a Fully-Self Driving Tesla?
As has been mentioned numerous times, Tesla vehicles are not yet permitted to drive themselves. Current regulations prevent this. A licensed driver must be in control of the vehicle at all times. However, this does not prevent Tesla from testing various self-driving features of its Autopilot in anticipation of the day that the system can be used on the road.
One example of this helps is reflected in how Tesla can now see when drivers interrupt the Autopilot to make certain corrections. This data is then sent back to Tesla so that it can immediately begin to determine what needs to be done to enable Autopilot to make those corrections in the future.
The fact that drivers still must intervene in various situations is one of the primary reasons why a fully self-driven car is not yet possible. However, the data collected by Tesla is helping to get the company one step closer to the day when it can definitively say that Autopilot can account for virtually every situation that it can encounter on the road.
How Much Data is Tesla Collecting?
It is difficult to say just how much data has been uploaded to Tesla since it first started collecting the information from drivers back in 2017. However, the recent full self-driving beta testing currently underway gives us an indication. This is a feature that is only available to certain drivers, each one of whom has agreed to allow data to be sent to Tesla.
One of the test conditions is that drivers can see when their data is being uploaded to Tesla. One owner has reported that Tesla recently uploaded as much as 4 gigabytes of data to Tesla in a single day. That is a huge amount of data. The information collected now leads to frequent updates, effectively making Autopilot safer and more effective over time.
What Kind of Data is Tesla Collecting?
The company is collecting any type of data that can remotely be useful in helping it to fine-tune its Autopilot software. This begins with five main tools that are built into the design of every new Tesla today:
- Cameras with a 360-degree angle view – Every Tesla now has a total of eight cameras, each of which can see at a 360-degree angle. When a driver interrupts Autopilot for any reason, the data sent to Tesla will allow the company to see exactly what was happening at the time and enable them to make specific fixes along the way.
- Ultrasonic sensor – With twelve sensors located around every Tesla vehicle, the aim is to be able to detect virtually any object that might be in the way of the vehicle. If a sensor does not catch something, that data is useful to Tesla in their efforts to continually refine the system.
- A radar system that faces forward – The forward-facing radar system is a cornerstone feature of the Autopilot. It is important that the vehicle be alerted of potential obstacles up ahead. The data from this system in real-time helps Tesla determine if the radar is functioning as it should and what, if any, software improvements are needed.
- Various vision processing tools – This is where artificial intelligence starts to enter the picture. These tools enable the system to determine when to brake or accelerate based upon the prevailing traffic flow. Again, the data sent to Tesla helps the company determine how the system is working in real-time.
- A comprehensive onboard computer – The computer is what allows the driver to know that everything is working. This data is necessary in order to allow humans to make accurate and timely decisions. The accuracy of that information is what makes the system work.
It is the combination of these tools that enables Autopilot to work. However, it is really up to the computer to process the information it receives and make the right driving decision instantaneously. This is the part of the Autopilot system that is undergoing constant change and is why the law requires that a driver still remains in control of the vehicle at all times.
Autopilot Features Where Data Collection is Essential
Each of the features of Autopilot is necessary in order to provide fully autonomous driving capability eventually. Until that day arrives, Tesla needs to examine data to determine how each function is working and what it can do to make it perform even better in the future. The following sections will describe each function and how the data received is useful to Tesla.
Using Navigation with Autopilot
The Navigation with Autopilot has long been in beta testing mode. This is the one function on Autopilot that demonstrates the possibility of fully autonomous vehicles in the future. It is designed right now to help a car safely navigate the highway and arrive at the intended destination with minimal input from the driver.
There are many variables involved for this function even to work, so Tesla has not yet promoted it for use in the city. When a driver inputs their intended destination, Autopilot will map out the best destination. This includes determining the following:
- Which on-ramp to take
- Which lane is best to be in at any given moment
- The speed limit
- Engaging and disengaging the adaptive cruise control
- Navigating any interchanges that come up along the way
- Changing lanes safely
- Positioning the car to be ready to exit the highway at the appropriate time
Each of these tools must work together and be ready to engage at just the right moment. As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving pieces involved in order for Navigation with Autopilot to work. This is why Tesla depends on data sent back from drivers currently using this system.
Using Autopilot to Change Lanes Automatically
There are more reasons than you can count to change lanes while driving. It is always important to do so safely and at a measured distance. There are also blind spots to take into account. This is why so many accidents happen when one car is making an improper lane change. Naturally, the Tesla Autopilot aims to change all of that.
Making use of the sensors around each Tesla car, Autopilot is able to change lanes automatically. As of now, drivers must remain aware at all times that the technology is being used. With a simple touch of the steering wheel or yoke, the feature will be disengaged. Data will be sent to Tesla to determine why the driver felt the need to take over when that happens.
Allowing Autopilot to Automatically Park the Car
Here is yet another feature that continues to be unveiled. With the Tesla Autopilot, the car can be automatically parked when called upon. There are many reasons why a driver might wish to use this function. Occasionally, the driver can even be outside the car when this feature is being used. Each time this function is engaged, video data can be sent to Tesla to be analyzed.
Drivers can easily use Autopilot to engage this feature. They do so by either touching the proper button on the display screen inside the car, using their mobile app or using the smart key. No matter how the feature is activated, the rationale behind it remains the same. It can only be used in a parking lot and in certain situations that the computer deems to be acceptable.
One particularly useful situation where this function can be used is when the space available to park is particularly tight. There might not even be enough space for the driver or passengers to exit the vehicle once parked. Now, everyone can get out of the car, after which the feature can be enabled and the car parked.
This is one of the few features on Autopilot that can currently be used with the driver outside the car. As the car is being parked, the driver can still disengage the feature by using their mobile app or key. This would be done if the driver saw something that could impact the car if it kept going on its current course. Naturally, that data is very useful for Tesla to have.
The Tesla Autopilot can also automatically park the car when the driver is still inside the vehicle. It does this by using the cameras and sensors built into its design. Interestingly enough, the system can both parallel and perpendicularly park a vehicle. However, it is not perfect. There are still reports of the system not working properly, which is why testing is still being done.
Summoning the Vehicle with Autopilot
This feature can be seen as the reverse of automatic parking. If your car is in a tight space, you can summon it directly to you by using this feature. The system is only meant to work in a parking lot when the car has already been parked. You can actually summon the car directly from the Tesla app on a smartphone or with the key.
Keep in mind that the car will just come directly to you and then stop. This feature does not have the vehicle negotiating any obstacles (as another function of the Tesla Autopilot can do that for you). If you are not located directly near the car, or there are too many obstacles between you and the car, the summon feature will be disabled on Autopilot.
As long as a driver has opted in to allow data to be shared directly with Tesla, the system will automatically upload the camera footage each time that this feature is utilized. That allows Tesla to explore exactly how effective the summon feature is and what improvements need to be made to ensure that it operates safely 100 percent of the time.
Using the Smart Summon Feature
This is a function of Tesla’s Autopilot that will make it seem as if the car is driving itself. However, it can only be used in a very limited number of situations. It is most commonly utilized in a parking lot.
Imagine that you have your hands full of grocery bags, and it is raining outside. The smart summon feature can be activated, thereby bringing your vehicle directly to you. Naturally, there will be some obstacles in the way and Autopilot is equipped to pick those out and maneuver accordingly until it arrives at your destination.
The system will only work if you are in the direct vicinity of the car. For example, this means that you will need to be in the same parking lot in order for it to work. Once activated, the car will:
- Automatically start
- Navigate itself out of the parking spot
- Determine where you are
- Slowly drive to where you are and stop
Those four functions are all that the smart summon feature is designed to do. If there are too many obstacles between you and the car, the system is not meant to activate. An example of this would be if you were on the other side of a building with barricades surrounding it, the car would determine it is impossible to get to you, and it would stop.
In order to make sure that the smart summon feature works as it is intended, Tesla needs mountains of data. The best way to do that is with drivers who currently make use of the system. Every time that the feature is activated, Tesla can determine what enhancements should be made by way of future software updates.
Autopilot Can Make the Car Stop and Go in Traffic
This feature allows the car to automatically accelerate and decelerate without guidance from the driver. It is quite useful for both highway and city driving. If a red light or stop sign is approaching, the car will slow down automatically if the driver is not applying the brakes soon enough.
The driver is always able to disengage this feature or stop using it simply by touching either the brake or accelerator. When that happens, Tesla will receive the data and be able to determine why the driver felt Autopilot was not functioning properly. Once again, this is how the system learns and continues to get better as the years go by.
Understanding how the Tesla Autopilot should help you to feel more confident in its functionality is the goal. The entire system is designed to lead to a safer presence on the road. If that can be accomplished, then all of the years of testing and the money that has been spent on its technology will almost certainly be viewed as worth it when it is all said and done.