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What Tesla Autopilot Actually Sees (Video)

Originally published on Gas2.

Tesla’s Version 7.0 firmware that enables its Autopilot suite of autonomous driving functions has been out for several weeks. We know it uses an array of sensors to gather data about its surroundings. To start with, every car built since October 2014 has both a forward-looking radar and camera. The car also gets GPS data constantly and has an array of 12 ultrasonic sensors that scan all around the car in real time out to a distance of 16 feet.

All those sensors enable a range of safety and convenience features. On the safety side, the car will bring itself to a halt automatically if it senses a collision is imminent. It warns of cars or bicyclists coming up from behind on either side. And it makes adaptive cruise control possible, so the car will slow automatically if the car ahead reduces its speed.

Tesla also offers owners a suite of what it calls “convenience features.” These include the much talked about Autosteer that keeps the car from wandering out of its lane, enables lane changes with a touch of the turn signal stalk, and allows the car to parallel park itself. Those features are part of an optional package that costs $2,500 at the time of purchase or $3,000 if an owner decides to add it after the car is built.

While we understand all that, until now, we have never had a clear idea of how all that information looks to the car’s computer. Now Wonderful Engineering has released a video that lets us see what the car sees. Notice how, as the car drives along, the computer highlights important elements like traffic lights, speed limit signs and “Do Not Enter” signs in green to indicate it is aware of them and is taking them into account as it makes driving decisions. You will also see how the camera sweeps over cars, people, and objects flowing past the car on both sides.

Elon Musk says Autopilot will reduce traffic injuries and fatalities because, unlike human beings, it never gets sleepy, never parties, and never gets distracted by the kids throwing stuff at each other in the back seat. Like all computers, it is 100% reliable… until it isn’t, which is why drivers must still pay attention and be ready to take over the controls if necessary.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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