Last week Tesla released version 7 of their in-car software which enabled some pretty amazing “Autopilot” features for owners. The hype in the tech world is pretty extreme, but perhaps a reality check is needed and we should consider what Tesla don’t have and ask why?
When I first drove the Model S late last year I was unhappy with the lack of a coat hook. Ok, it’s the simple things right?
But when it comes to technology – Tesla is held up in the highest regard by the tech community. Used to reporting on the innovations we see each year from the likes of Apple, LG, Sony and Samsung, it’s hard not to be swept up in the excitement of a feature called “Autopilot”.
The truth is, Elon Musk announced Autopilot early this year, and we’re only now – several months late, seeing the most impressive parts of an overall package that continues to be developed and rolled out.
One of the “amazing” features of the new software on the Tesla Model S is self-parking. If I see another video of this being labelled as amazing or revolutionary I’ll lose my mind. Yep, it’s cool. But it was amazing in 2011. Yep, four years ago I reviewed the Ford Focus Titanium. With Self-Parking. Even the VF Commodore had self-parking with both Parallel and nose-to-kerb. UPDATE: It should be noted that Tesla’s point of difference and advance with self-parking is full automation, not pedal or shift control required by the user. Love the idea of not shifting to reverse etc, but I think I’d still like the pedal control personally:)
Is it really running on Autopilot? Nope. Does it have the closest thing to “self-driving” features of any other car. Yes.
The real standout feature is without question the highway driving assistance. With no hands on the wheel a Tesla Model S owner can drive on the highways and freeways with the car doing all the steering, and even lane changing.
Now, guidance and assistance on freeways isn’t new. Ford, Infiniti, Volvo, Mercedes, BMW, we could go on – these are all manufacturers whose cars are capable of detecting the lanes and either alerting you or actually steering you back into your lane when you veer away.
In some cars it feels like being in a pinball machine, being bounced from dotted line to dotted line. In others you can get away with a few bends on a freeway before it alerts you to get those hands back on the wheel.
None of them claim the same level of autonomy as the Tesla. Nor do any of them pull it off quite like Tesla have.
But – it’s only for the highway. And to all those Telsa drivers filming themselves with their hands off the wheel – put your hands back on the wheel you idiots, there are other people on the roads and when a roo jumps out we don’t yet know how the car will react.
And at low-speed and on different roads, this is not a self-driving car.
Tesla, more than any other car maker is closest to giving us more and more parts of the self-driving car experience. But – what else are they missing?
Split Screen TV
Bowen recently drove the Range Rover with a fantastic little feature. With the “TV” running, the driver has no ability to view the picture. Only the passenger can see the TV – now – that’s cool.
Night vision Alert
Driving the Rolls Royce Ghost Series II there was a bunch of great technology. The most amazing was the night vision with pedestrian alert. A person on the side of the road will show up on the black and white screen in a bright yellow. This is brilliant.
Auto segmented High-beam
The Audi A8 headlights are mind-blowing. Not just automatic high-beam, these were sectioned off to allow the high beam to work around other vehicles or objects. So the car in front doesn’t get the blinding light, but the road and roadside around them is lit up by your headlights.
Reversing Object Detection
It’s great to have super accurate reversing sensors, but they’re useless if they let you hit something. I parked an Infiniti at a Valet and I accidentally went to reverse instead of drive to get out of the spot they’d left it in. It would NOT let me drive. It knew there was a pole there, and it simply wouldn’t let me move.
360 degree reversing camera
Once again, the beeping, the on-screen guidance and the distance calculations are excellent. However, check out the reverse camera on BMWs, Nissan Pathfinder, Volvo and many more. Using brilliantly positioned cameras they construct a virtual birds-eye view of the surroundings so you can see everything around you.
Speed sign recognition
It’s great to have GPS and map data feeding you Speed limit information – but for the most accurate reading of what the current speed is – especially on Aussie roads where there are new speeds every 50 meters some times – we’d turn to Volvo. Their speed sign recognition is exceptional.
Update: Tesla owners point out there is some level of this on board. Only in certain (perhaps most recent) models: Tesla speed-assist uses GPS markers and “also using the front-facing camera to read speed signs where that data isn’t available.” Volvo’s certainly is more in-your-face – flashing when it detects a new sign.
Low-speed roadside detection
Volvo’s technology team have worked hard on the low-speed city driving situations where pedestrians and cyclists cause more concern for drivers than almost anything else. Having this detection makes city driving a whole lot safer.
Head Up Display
Ok, if you think all that is a gimmick – then this is a serious WTF moment. Head-Up displays (HUD) project (or more correctly reflect) vital data into the windscreen in front of the driver. Speed, navigation, power use – these could all appear on the windscreen.
For a car running on the highway in “Autopilot” I’d like to think Tesla is doing everything they can to keep the drivers eyes on the road. I don’t want them fiddling with the 17 inch touch-screen to select a new song. Get your eyes on the road folks, and a HUD is the best solution to that problem.
The lack of a Head Up display is almost ridiculous. Commodore, Mazda 2, you name it, plenty of cars have them – why not Tesla?
Don’t get me wrong, Tesla is amazing. Stunning. I want one, and one day I hope to own one.
But I think a reality check is more than overdue here when we talk about the innovation going on. Some credit to the rest of the industry doing their best to innovate within some pretty archaic business models.
The most impressive thing about Telsa is their continued commitment to new and existing customers. For almost every other car owner, the vehicle you drive out of the dealership is the same vehicle you trade-in or sell a few years later. A Tesla owner could well have a huge range of improvements added to their car by simple over the internet upgrades though the life of the car.
That, and the other simple user interface benefits of the Tesla are the real things the rest of the automotive industry should be moving mountains to duplicate.
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.