June 13th, 2018 by Kyle Field
Tesla has released an updated version of its Autopilot solution — version 2018.21.9 — which adds new safety features as well as a handful of additional items that make the Autopilot solution more user friendly. For example, it slows you down when taking an offramp from the freeway.
YouTuber Scott Kubo took to the streets with the new version and confirmed in several attempts that Autopilot very confidently and consistently was able to navigate an offramp, slowing the vehicle down as it tailed off from the freeway. It is important to note that, by design, the solution will not bring the vehicle to a complete stop as part of the new offramp logic.
Sigh. This is crux of matter: can’t make system too annoying or people won’t use it, negatively affecting safety, but also can’t allow people to get too complacent or safety again suffers. Latest update should have a positive effect on latter issue especially.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 10, 2018
YouTuber treborg777 put the current version of Autopilot through a highway Torture Test that included many real-world scenarios the solution had not mastered previously. The new version prompts drivers to hold the steering wheel in just 40 seconds now. This was shortened in an attempt to mitigate the rampant abuse of the system and to make the solution safer.
The new version of Autopilot now shows vehicles in adjacent lanes on the instrument cluster virtual display. This helps build driver confidence that the solution sees what they see … or, conversely, that the solution has no idea that it’s about to get all up close and personal with a semi truck. Several users noted that this is a nice feature but that it is also not 100% accurate yet.
Back on the road, the solution had noticeably better control in a tight S-turn that it had not previously mastered, but it was still unable to navigate new cars merging onto the freeway in its lane. Similarly, two lanes merging into one spooked the car, causing it to dive to the right, presumably in search of the right-hand guide line on the road.
Redditor humanwire noted that the new solution was more confident with lane changes, resulting in a steadier, less delayed lane change. Phantom braking in response to road signs or overhead signs is a new phenomenon that arrived with the current version of Autopilot. This is not only unsafe, but gives the appearance of a brake check to other drivers, which can cause a totally different set of rage-induced human issues. However, it was probably considered a necessary middle step to account for the fact that Autopilot vehicles don’t stop for parked vehicles — like firetrucks and semi trucks. There have been a handful of nasty accidents from Tesla vehicles plowing into the back of such parked vehicles, so a brief braking may better alert drivers to the fact that something stationary is ahead and they better stop the car if it’s a truck.
As with previous Autopilot updates, the latest revision offers many incremental improvements that drivers who rely on Autopilot daily will notice, but that in and of themselves are not game changers.
Looking to the future, Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared on Twitter that Tesla’s focus to date has not been on improving the amount of time drivers could go without touching the wheel, creating a robust solution for end-to-end freeway driving, but rather, the focus has been on safety. It makes sense — ultimately, it is and will continue to be the improved safety performance of the solution that will drive regulators to adopt Autopilot and Full Self-Driving packages.
The August Autopilot update is the first that will unlock the gates of Full Self-Driving technology coming to the drivers who paid for it so many moons ago. As with all of Tesla’s Autopilot updates to date, don’t expect Full Self-Driving to be fully functional from day 1, though. Despite that, it is exciting that the tech will finally start making it into the hands of real users out in the broader community of Tesla drivers — not just the staff.