Autopilot Experiences

My original title of this was going to be Autopilot will kill you, but I expect there will be a better time for that in the future. Having used 2018.21.9 for a few days now, I have for the first time experienced what actually felt like the car intended to cause an accident.

Before getting to that, let me cover some of the changes I've noticed, as I expect many are related. Most notably, and ostensibly good, the car is demonstrating much longer lane-holding, including through long unmarked intersections. In the past, the car would drop out of auto-steering much earlier and decide as it entered some intersections that it could not find a lane and drop out of autosteer (the latter was an improvement in some intersections).

The increased lane-holding appears to be related to accepting looser lane definitions. This demonstrates itself both in being more liberal in guessing where a lane is, and in being willing to go over a line to keep a curve rather than disengaging and forcing manual correction. The car is also slowing as it enters a curve, although still later than proper for sharper turns, and rather than determining what angle to take a turn (e.g. finding the apex) or what curve to take to stay close to the borders of the lane, auto-steering makes frequent micro adjustments throughout the curve. The only time that this new behaviour, willing to drive over the median, has caused problems for me was in slow-moving, stop-and-go traffic (where it as utterly unnecessary). The car moved, maybe six inches or a foot at a time while angling towards the shoulder, then back towards and over the median, and tried to keep going into the wrong lane as cars approached from the other direction where there was no traffic.

AutoPilot now stops suddenly, both as part of apparently more aggressive emergency stopping, and also for apparently no reason. Given the timing, this seems as if it is a response to yet-another parked firetruck being hit by a car on AutoPilot (the first major story being back in January). I've been tempted to disable emergency breaking because the sudden stopping seems dangerous—especially considering how late we are in our pregnancy. Coupled with the annoying changes to the hands on wheels warnings (certainly influenced by the latest firetruck accident), I've simply stopped using AutoPilot in all but the most tedious stop-and-go situations. The new warnings have even come-up while stopped. When I was in line at a light, not having moved for close to a minute, the warning popped-up and disabled AutoPilot (fortunately, we were still stopped so I could switch into park and back into drive). The warnings now regularly come-up even when driving under 8mph, which had previously never resulted in warnings. The screen no longer flashes the borders as well—only the very top—before switching to the audible tones (and recording one of your strikes; three in an hour disable AutoPilot until the car is switched into park).

While slowly driving into the oncoming lane, and abrupt stopping from 55mph with traffic behind me is admittedly dangerous and startling, neither of these events would lend me to feel like the car were actively trying to kill me. The former can be generally predicted, much like knowing when it will likely try to accelerate into a tree. Technically, the latter is the responsibility of the person who will likely crash into you eventually. No, the one time in the past two months where I could believe the car actually was trying to kill me was when, about 500 yards from work and driving in the morning rush hour in the left-most lane of a divided highway, AutoPilot decided to suddenly and violently ram into the lane to my right which was at the time occupied by other vehicles, similarly driving at speed during the morning rush hour. It was a surprising jolt which, admittedly my grip on the wheel had not been expecting (I've never seen AutoPilot turn so hard), but a quick recovery meant that the vehicle had not left the wide lanes we were in. There are definitely roads with narrower lanes where this would have certainly caused a problem.

There are also a few, what I would consider superficial, imperfections since they don't seem to have any effective impact on my experience driving. New to this update is displaying cars in adjacent lanes. It's unclear how long AP2 software has been detecting these cars without displaying them, so it would be imprecise to label issues with this feature as new. One quite apparent issue after driving around on bright sunny days is regularly seeing phantom cars in adjacent lanes; I highlight bright sunny days as my best guess is that this is caused by changes in contrast (shadows) on the road from nearby trees, but I cannot tell for sure; it's possible this explains some of the sudden emergency breaking for no apparent cause. A related improvement, seemingly, is displaying cars further in front (I've seen at least three cars ahead show-up in the display, whereas only two would appear in the past). I've also seen it confuse one car in front of me as three distinct cars. Displaying "Parking Spots" in the highway when moving slowly is not a new issue (since getting the car, it's shown parking spots where there wasn't even road to the side of the car), and this is continues with at least as much frequency.

Superficial issues aside, the new AutoPilot is willing and often able to operate on more roads and in more situations than it had been previously. It does so, though, bringing much less predictability to its overall behaviour and makes its usage much more dangerous, as well as stressful. Eventually, perhaps, Tesla will introduce additional controls (much like comfort/standard/sport steering and early/medium/late emergency breaking) to the AutoSteer algorithm to allow drivers to tune their comfort level to the system's guessing; until then AutoPilot feels unsafe at any speed faster than 8mph, and simply annoying below that.