This Is How Tesla Autopilot Really Works

This Is How Tesla Autopilot Really Works

Tesla has made a name for themselves in the autonomous driving world and continues to impress with their autopilot technology. Of course, when considering purchasing these vehicles, it is important that you understand autopilot and how this works. It is expected that future vehicles will include many of these autopilot features and self-driving capabilities.

Tesla vehicles feature cameras and sensors that work with their state-of-the-art software to provide autopilot capabilities. When purchasing a Tesla, drivers can choose which autopilot package they wish to receive with their car. These packages range in price and will offer various autopilot capabilities. 

If you are interested in purchasing a Tesla or simply want to learn more about this technology, we will break down the ins and outs of autopilot. To learn more about how this technology works and what you can expect from the brand, keep reading!

Pro Tip: Ordering a Tesla? Get 1000 Free Supercharger Miles by using a Tesla referral link from another Tesla owner.

How the Company Describes this Technology

By visiting the Tesla website, you can learn more about the autopilot technology. While they do give detailed information on these vehicles, it can be a bit hard to understand from an outsider perspective. However, to best understand the Tesla autopilot features, you will want to see what the company itself says.

  • Tesla refers to their autopilot as a “deep neural network” that uses cameras and sensors to sense the environment around the car as it is driving.
  • They continue by saying, “this robust sensor and camera suite provides drivers with an awareness of their surroundings that a driver alone would not otherwise have.” This is essentially saying that the car’s cameras will give you a deeper understanding of your surroundings.
  • A computer on the vehicle will process the input of these cameras in milliseconds and help you make safer and less stressful driving decisions.

As mentioned, this can be a bit confusing, but the company is essentially saying that the vehicle uses cameras and onboard computers to process the surroundings quickly. This helps you as the driver make better driving decisions.

Autopilot in More Basic Terms

While Tesla’s explanation of this technology is a bit hard to understand for the average consumer, it is important that you understand this if you hope to purchase a vehicle. The Tesla cars vary depending on the model, but they all use a series of networked cameras that are positioned around the car. These cameras use a software that enables them to detect objects near the car.

These cameras will be able to decide how far away an object is and use this information to move the vehicle. This means that the car will either steer a certain direction, brake, or accelerate depending on what the software decides.

What Does Autonomous Mean?

When you begin researching Tesla vehicles, the term autonomous is bound to show up. This is another confusing term and understanding autonomous levels will affect your understanding of autopilot. Autonomous vehicles essentially references cars that are able to drive on their own.

  • Tesla vehicles use a silicon chip that was created for autopilot use specifically. This chip is the brain of the vehicle and helps learn about various driving situations.
  • There are one million Teslas on the road today and these vehicles connect to each other in real time. This means that these vehicles can communicate and learn from each other.
  • The vehicle is able to simultaneously communicate with other vehicles while also monitoring the surroundings with the built-in cameras. This allows it to decide what is the next best decision while driving.

This ability to communicate with other vehicles on the same network has made Tesla one of the best autonomous vehicles on the market today.

Understanding the Autopilot Features

Of course, the best way to understand these autopilot features is to drive the vehicle yourself. However, this is not always possible and learning more about these features can help you understand the technology. Tesla offers several styles of vehicle and these will have differing autopilot packages as well.

Some of the many autopilot features offered with Tesla vehicles are:

  • Traffic Aware Cruise Control – This is similar to other vehicles that offer cruise control, but in true Tesla style it is much more advanced. The Traffic Aware Cruise Control will monitor the car in front of the vehicle and match the speed. This also allow the Tesla to come to a stop and accelerate again without driver interference.
  • Auto Lane Change – When driving on a multilane road, the Tesla will be able to change lanes on its own. As the driver, all you will do is turn on the turn signal to indicate which lane you hope to enter. The car will ensure the lane is clear and move over on its own.
  • Autosteer – As one would expect from a self-driving vehicle, the Tesla is able to steer on its own by tracking the lines on the lane. It will remain centered in the lane, able to take on even larger curves unlike other similar technologies. The only time this is not available is intersections, as the multiple lines can confuse the cameras.
  • Stop Sign and Traffic Light Control – The Tesla vehicles are able to drive on autopilot on both interstate and city streets. They can see and respond to stop signs and traffic signals that they come across while driving. This allows the vehicle to drive almost anywhere with little interference from the driver aside from an occasional tap on the accelerator pedal.
  • Navigate on Autopilot – This allows for semi-autonomous driving from the on ramp to the off ramp of the highway. This is one feature many love as you simply enter the final destination and turn on the Navigate on Autopilot feature. This will allow the vehicle to change lanes, make exists, and travel through interchanges on its own.
  • Autopark – For those who hate parking, Tesla vehicles have this tricky part of driving covered with their Autopark feature. Autopark will drive the vehicle slowly along parking spots until it sees an available spot, it uses other vehicles to identify these spots. Once a spot is seen, you will put the car in reverse and begin this parking process, it can then park the car both parallel and perpendicular.
  • Summon – This feature allows you to move your car truly without anyone in it. This is one of the only features that does not require a driver completely through either the Basic Summon or Smart Summon. Basic will move the car backward and straight forward only and Smart will allow the car to navigate its way to you through a parking lot.

It is important to remember that Tesla is consistently updating their software and offering new driving capabilities. By purchasing one of these smart cars, you will want to stay up to date on these updates and changes. While the above listed are some of the features that have been released, you will want to inquire what autopilot features are available for the specific model you are interested in.

Is a Driver Necessary for Autopilot?

Of course, when you think of autopilot, you automatically think that this means the car can do the work for you. However, at no time should you allow the vehicle to drive without someone in the driver’s seat. The Summon feature is the only one that has been shown to be effective without a driver in the front seat.

The Tesla website addresses this directly by calling the Autopilot feature a “hands-on driver assistance system” and it confirms that this system should only be used with a fully attentive driver. When using autopilot, the driver can allow the car to drive on its own, but they should still be in the seat and available as needed.

To ensure that the driver is remaining observant, Tesla has added some features. These are:

  • The vehicle will deliver an escalating series of visual and audio warnings that remind you to place your hands on the wheel as needed.
  • If you ignore the warnings from the vehicle, it will lock you out of using autopilot further.
  • At any time, should the driver wish the override the autopilot, you can steer, apply the brakes, or use the cruise control stalk.

Overall, it is important to remember that Tesla is considered semi-autonomous and requires a driver at all times. It is neither recommended or safe to use the vehicle without a driver present.

Are Tesla Vehicles Safe?

With the advancements in autopilot technology, the concerns with the safety of these vehicles has risen. Though many deem Tesla cars to be amongst the safest vehicles on our roadways today, it is still questionable how secure semi-autonomous driving truly is. To counteract these claims, Tesla has included many safety features in their design that help keep their vehicles safe.

Tesla refers to these safety features as their Autopilot Active Safety Features which are included in any Tesla vehicles built since September 2014. These safety features are detailed fully in the autopilot software packages, but some of the safety features you can expect from the vehicles are:

  • Automatic Emergency Brake – One way that the autopilot protects the vehicle and driver is the automatic braking technology which stops the car if it is about to collide with something. The main goal of the vehicle is to avoid collision or lower the severity of impact by braking. If the vehicle believes it will hit something, the emergency brake will kick in.
  • Obstacle Aware Acceleration – This is similar to the emergency brake but will slow down the vehicle when there is an obstruction to avoid collision. The vehicle will either accelerate or slow acceleration, depending on what it is hoping to avoid.
  • Forward and Side Collision Warning – The vehicle is consistently looking for obstacles in both the front and sides of the vehicle. When an obstacle is seen, the vehicle will alert the driver in hopes that they will react before it needs to. This alert can be programmed to fit your driving needs, or it can be turned off entirely if needed.
  • Lane Departure Avoidance – This technology has been previously mentioned, but this safety feature will keep you in the lane while driving. The Lane Departure Avoidance will nudge the car back into the lane should you begin to drift out of the lane. This works with the Autosteer features to keep the driver in their lane but can be changed to a chime if wanted.
  • Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance – This is another version of the Lane Departure Avoidance feature but is a bit more extreme. This kicks in if the Tesla is leaving the lane that it is in and may collide with another vehicle. The Tesla will assess the situation and change direction to avoid the collision at hand.
  • Blind Spot Monitoring – Of course, most drivers are aware of their blind spot when driving but it is clearly called a blind spot for a reason. The vehicle will monitor the blind spot and alert the driver to any obstacles or vehicles that may be there. This feature kicks in when a lane change is being made.

Tesla has these features in place to help keep the vehicle and driver as safe as possible when in route. However, if you purchase a Tesla and do not like any of these features, they can be turned off or changed to fit your needs. This will really be up to your own preference and driving the vehicle is the best way to see what you like.

Understanding the Tesla Autopilot Packages

As with most vehicle brands, you can choose your specific type of Tesla and how much you can pay for the technology included. The Tesla brand offers several autopilot software packages that you can choose from and they are regularly updating these. The packages will differ based on price and the overall features that you receive for these costs.

Autopilot with Convenience Features

This is the very first autopilot package offered and includes and one of the least expensive. At this time. this is a bit outdated as Tesla offers much more detailed packages, but this was a great starting point for the company. This package includes features such as:

  • Front Collision Avoidance
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • TACC
  • Autosteering, Autobraking, and Auto Accelerating
  • Auto Park
  • Speed Sign Reading
  • Early form of Summon

As mentioned, this was the company’s earliest autopilot software package and there are several updates that have taken place. However, this was a great start in the autopilot world.

Enhanced Autopilot or EAP

This was introduced in 2016 and is available on Model S/X and Model 3/Y. It is pricier than the earlier forms of autopilot, but has several more advanced features that make the car more self-driving. This can be added to a vehicle upon purchase or is also offered as an upgrade.

Some of the features offered with EAP are:

  • Smart Summon
  • Navigation on Autopilot
  • Auto Lane Changes

Overall, this is a great midrange package but does not offer all of the features that Tesla has become known for. If you want something that has top of the line features, this may be the best choice.

Base Autopilot

This was created in April of 2019 and is the standard on all Tesla vehicles at this time. This was a major advancement from the previous options and continued to push the limits on what self-driving cars can do. Many other autonomous vehicle companies have pushed further with their technology due to this advancement.

Some of the features offered from base autopilot are:

  • TACC
  • Autosteer
  • Auto Braking
  • Auto Acceleration

Since this is now standard with the Tesla vehicles, it will be included in any vehicles purchased. While additional packages can be added, this is a great baseline package.

Full-Self Driving or FSD

This is the top-of-the-line autopilot software that Tesla has offered so far. It offers all of the features found in EAP but will also feature Traffic Light and Stop Light Control. The FSD package will be more expensive than the others offered so far from the company, but this was expected with these newer features.

Tesla has become known for offering some of the newest and best technology when it comes to autopilot features. It is expected that the company will continue releasing new technology and fine tuning the features they currently offer.

Tesla Offers Many Autopilot Features

As mentioned, Tesla continues to improve their self-driving capabilities and offer a variety of autopilot features that keep them top of the line. These features work by using a series of cameras and sensors that communicate with the vehicle’s software to make the best decisions for the car.

These autopilot capabilities paired with the many safety features the company offers make the vehicles amongst the best on the market today. It is important to keep in mind that while they do have autopilot features, they do not have the capability to drive completely on their own. You should always remain in the driver’s seat and operating the vehicle.


The articles here on are created by Greg, a Tesla vehicle and Tesla solar expert with nearly half a decade of hands-on experience. The information on this site is fact-checked and tested in-person to ensure the best possible level of accuracy.

Recent Posts