A few weeks ago, Tesla, a company famed for being a frontrunner in innovation in the automobile industry, released a free software update enabling its cars to drive autonomously on highways and straight roads. This model of Tesla uses a variety of sensors and newly introduced software to “sense” the road around it in order to make decisions about what to do. For example, the car can automatically accelerate, brake, steer, and even change lanes. I was lucky enough to drive a P85D on Highway 101 and use the autonomous mode in the middle of rush hour. Here were my impressions:
Firstly, the Tesla on its own is very different to drive than a regular car, mainly because of its regenerative braking and acceleration. Regenerative braking means that the car decelerates on its own to regenerate power. This aspect takes some time to adjust to, but after you get used to it, driving the car is quite fun.
Now, on to autonomous mode. Initially, using it felt surreal. Normally, while in the driver’s seat, you feel in complete control of the car. However, when using autonomous mode, you feel the wheel turning under your hands, and the car accelerating even though your foot isn’t on the accelerator. As you spend more time in autonomous mode, you come to trust the car, as you realize that it is as effective as you are when driving.
While in autonomous mode in the carpool lane, I was driving at about 65 mph when a car going about 30 mph quickly changed lanes only slightly in front of me. My car reacted faster than I would have been able to decelerate, and then accelerated after the other car had safely merged. On the highway, I only had to take direct control of the car once, when the lane lines got blurry due to construction on Highway 101. Although the technology is not perfect, it is refined enough that it requires minimal driver intervention, and I felt safe throughout the ride.