Tesla's Autopilot Mode Does the Driving for You, Mostly

New system takes care of highway driving, lane changes, even parallel parking
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 15, 2015 8:43 AM CDT
In this Sept. 29, 2015, file photo, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, introduces the Model X car at the company's headquarters in Fremont, Calif.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
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(Newser) – It's not the completely autonomous self-driving system found in Google's cars, but with Tesla's new "Autopilot" mode—included in a software update for its Model S and new Model X cars and available in North America starting Thursday—drivers will be able to "automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic," the BBC reports. The new system also scans for a parking space when it gets to its final destination, and Wired reports the autopark feature allows it to parallel-park on its own. Autopilot is optimized for highway driving (unless you're behind a vehicle, you must be going at least 18mph for it to work), and it's not like you can completely zone out: Wired points out that after a few seconds of no contact, you'll get an alert from the car to touch the wheel; grab the wheel, and control reverts to you.

So how safe is an Autopilot-equipped Tesla? "It should not hit pedestrians, hopefully," CEO Elon Musk told the media Thursday, per the BBC. The car will also come to a complete stop and put its hazards on if the driver doesn't take back control when alerted. There are limitations—e.g., the system won't perform as well in heavy snow or on highways where lane markings aren't clear, and "it doesn’t know what the traffic light or the sign in front of you says," per Jalopnik, which describes it as the "ultimate execution of cruise control." After a test drive, Jalopnik acknowledges the technology as both "awesome and creepy," while Road & Track says, "As unsettling as it may have been to turn the controls over to a system that Tesla still describes as being in 'beta' testing, Autopilot proved itself to be up to the task of handling stop-and-go traffic without getting confused or seriously scaring anyone in the car." (The Model X is also ready for an "apocalyptic scenario.")

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