Tesla has released video demonstrating how their autonomous technology is coming along. It’s a rough glimpse into the future of HAVs. Let’s analyze how it handles public roads and traffic.
Now, I don’t usually play the backseat driver game, but since this car is responding to sensory inputs and programming, everything it does should be repeatable under the same conditions. I suspect that if this car was released to the world today, it would make the same driving choices. Are these good or bad choices? Let’s go for a ride:
0:17 The first thing you’ll notice as the car sets out is that it doesn’t slow down as it exits the driveway. You or I would have to take a moment to look both ways before accelerating again, but could this be an indication of its ability to sense traffic faster than us? Is the car ignoring potential traffic, or is it sensing that the way is indeed clear?
0:30 Tesla makes a complete stop at the stop sign and after about two seconds (actually longer than that, considering that the video is sped up) makes a left turn, immediately taking the left side of the unpainted road. Did it take the wrong “lane” initially, or did it sense a need to maneuver around the parked van before defaulting to the right lane? Does the drainage gutter placement indicate that the van is actually on the shoulder of this road?
0:40 The Tesla approaches a main road, its first encounter with moving traffic. I don’t see a stop sign or traffic signal, but the car makes two stops: one at the stop line, and a second one as if to account for visibility around that corner, like you or I would for a right turn on red maneuver.
We see traffic approaching, and the Tesla accelerates IMMEDIATELY after the first flash of the other car’s indicator. Is this a lightning-fast reaction to the other car’s communicated intention, or was this just coincidence, and the Tesla was going to proceed anyway? If the other car had not been turning, would the Tesla have forced the other driver to slow down?
0:49 Now that the Tesla has joined a main roadway, it aims directly for the left lane. Why? Could this have something to do with the previously approaching car?
1:10 The Tesla is shown merging into the right lane, but this is clearly an edit from a later portion of the drive. The car hasn’t been in the left lane this whole time, has it?
1:15 Another edit to later in the trip. The car jumps into the left lane rather quickly to avoid the right-turn-only lane, but remember: the video is sped up, so this isn’t as abrupt as it looks.
1:41 As the car takes the exit ramp, the steering wheel performs two adjustments: the first seems to be a lane-keep maneuver as the road starts to curve, and the second accounts for the angle of the off-ramp. These movements are confident and precise corrections, but it bothers me that the car started to veer from lane center in the first place. I’d like to see better anticipatory lane-keeping than what Autopilot can currently handle.
1:53 The car makes another “full and complete stop” for the sign. As it should! But the next movements of the wheel as it makes the turn are anything but smooth.
2:02 I can’t tell how fast that motorcycle is going, all I know is that it’s faster than everyone else. Oh well, back to the Tesla...
2:07 Pretty satisfyingly smooth turn, there. Well done.
2:17 The nose came pretty close to the yellow line at the end of that turn, but technically stayed inside it. Totally bodged the apex.
2:22 WTF That’s the oncoming lane, Tesla! I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. This is why you’re not ready for prime-time.
2:27 Instead of making a curb-side stop to deliver the passenger, the car seems to be in the middle of transitioning from the wrong side of a two-lane two-way aisle to what I would consider an extra-wide one-lane aisle.
2:42 Some jerky motions with the wheel there, but at such low speeds they would have little effect on passenger comfort.
2:52 Pedestrian alert! Good catch, Tesla. Not sure why you waited so long to get moving again afterward, though. That’s some rather human-like hesitation.
3:04 Tesla rolls through what could be a stop line, but let’s just call it a yield line, huh? It’s just a parking lot, and there’s no conflicting traffic ATM.
3:06 Tesla ignores the yellow line again, and fails to swing wide enough to be in ONE lane when it reaches the stop line. Parking lot or not, that’s sloppy.
3:18 Showoff. I mean, my parallel parking skills are pretty ok, but damn, Tesla.
(I swear I’m not this judgmental when I’m a passenger in your car.)
So, overall: Pretty impressive, Tesla. There’s plenty of stuff yet to work on, though. You’ve got the hardware to do some really cool precision driving. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.
What did you notice in the video? As a driver, what would you do differently?