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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on September 29th, 2019 | by Jesper Berggreen

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How The Long Drive To Frankfurt For IAA 2019 Made Me Talk To My Tesla Model 3

September 29th, 2019 by  


A few days ago I told you what I thought was going on at the IAA 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, and that was quite an eye opener for me. One single model stole the show. The world of automobiles will see serious change next year, when the VW ID.3 and other similar models hit the tarmac with their wheels spinning so fast the fossil fuel slurping dinosaurs won’t know what hit them.

Volkswagen ID.3

But this is the story about how I got to the exhibition, in a car from a company that might well be responsible for the imminent automobile revolution. Buckle up, ’cause fossils are going bye bye…

The Model 3 Gets Personal

I was really excited to test my Tesla Model 3 to the limit on this trip to the Frankfurt Motor Show. The last time I took this +1000 mile (1,800 km) round trip from Denmark to “Messe Frankfurt,” I drove my son’s 1994 Golf 3 with almost 300,ooo miles on the clock. The Golf is a reliable car, but it was a nightmare on the German Autobahn at speeds around — and occasionally above — 80 mph (130 km/h, which is the speed limit where there actually is a limit), and my body felt like a worn out punching bag for several days after that trip.

I would have loved to drive in my leased BMW i3 back then, but it simply would have been an even worse nightmare with too many charging stops. This time around, though, I finally went all electric in my Long Range RWD Model 3, and things were about to get personal.

Meet Colin — My Autobahn Robot

I named my Model 3 “Colin” after a small security guard robot in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Colin is captured and gets its reward circuits rewired by one of the main characters to find ecstatic pleasure in anything its master commands of it (its master being an alien who named himself Ford Prefect, after what he thought was the dominant intelligent life form on planet Earth since he was almost run over by one of these old British cars when he arrived there the first time).

Now it was time to put my very own Autobahn robot with the inconspicuous name to the test. Would Colin be able to get me to Frankfurt and back without any discomfort? Would his driver assist systems work as intended? Or would he accidentally kill me? Well, obviously, I wasn’t killed, but I will admit that he scared the hell out of me a couple of times.

With 10,306 km on the odometer and fully charged with 511 km of range I started directly after work Friday of the last weekend of IAA 2019. I had booked a room at the Flux Biohotel near Hann. Münden in the beautiful hills of Kassel, and for this trip … wait, this could end up being a boring list of events that you would struggle to get through and make any sense of, so allow me to let my car get personal. Indeed, the following will actually be possible with future software updates — right, Elon? No, seriously, I expect nothing less — in the not so distant future — than a car that I can have a natural language conversation with!

You should regard the narrative below as science fiction based on a true story, and my aim is to prove a point or two in regard to what it’s like driving for a long time in a car equipped with what I consider a stupendously advanced, although not at all complete, driving assist system. Put another way, the driving experience is referenced accurately, but the dialog is all in my head. 🙂

Departing city of Aarhus, Friday 14:00

Me: “Hey Colin, warm up your battery packs, because we are going on a very long trip. Please navigate to Flux Biohotel in Hann. Münden, Germany!”

Colin: “Uh, we’re going to the Kassel Hills, are we? Nice, I love hills. You know, with 416 Nm of rear wheel torque, my sleek body just shoots up those steep ascends and I feel…”

Me: “Alright, Alright, Colin! I get it. You’re fast and strong and anxious to stretch your tires on the German Autobahn. Now, just tell me where you need to charge and when you think we will arrive at the hotel?”

Colin: “Okay, wait a second. … There’s a Supercharger in Hamburg at which I would have 5% juice left, and ETA at Flux Biohotel is 21:35. Can I charge at the hotel?”

Me: “They told me they would serve you a dish of electrons, yes. 660 km in more than 7 hours? Seems a bit slow, but I guess it’s because of traffic and construction work?”

Colin: “Yeah, it looks crowded around Hamburg as usual, and there are long stretches of construction north of Hannover, and, well, you don’t usually drive very fast, so…”

Me: “Right. Okay, as soon as we hit the motorway, do your Autopilot thing.”

Colin: “Yes, sir!”

Passing the city of Vejle, Friday 14:54

Colin: “In order to reach the Hamburg Supercharger I need to stay below 125 km/h, so please dial down the Autopilot speed!”

Me: “What? No! Speed limit is 130 km/h here, so why don’t you just choose a Supercharger before Hamburg.”

Colin: “No can do. My software doesn’t know how to dynamically change charging destination according to your driving pattern. You have to choose manually.”

Me: “Really? I’m not driving that much faster than usual. It must be the colder weather. Your range estimates must be based on warmer weather.”

Colin: “Go figure … I’m just saying, slow down or choose a Supercharger manually.”

Me: “Alright, I will. Hmm, Rødekro just before the German border seems convenient, and I’m nearing my bladder-range anyway. Uh, and I need coffee!”

Colin: “Rødekro it is! ETA 51 minutes.”

Charging at Rødekro Supercharger, Friday 15:44

Me: “I’ll just plug you in, discharge my bladder, and get that coffee. Don’t go anywhere, Colin!”

Colin: “Well, I’m really not that hungry, 65% charge left and all. Just hurry, will ya’?”

Crossing the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal, Friday 16:43

Colin: “Whoops! You just accelerated above 150 km/h while on Autopilot, so I have news for you dude: No more Autopilot until next time you park!”

Me: “Seriously!? You’re supposed to obey my orders, not punish me! It’s not like I was speeding. There is no speed limit here, and I had to get passed that car fast. Did you not see that Audi closing up fast from behind?”

Colin: “I saw it. So?”

Me: “Well! Engage autopilot!”

Colin: “Nope.”

Me: “Why not?”

Colin: “My purpose is to serve you, yes, but more so to keep you alive. My creator has spoken. BTW, Hamburg Supercharger ETA 1 hour 8 minutes…”

Me: “Jesus, alright, I’ll drive. As fast as I want to…”

Charging at Hamburg Supercharger, Friday 17:59

Colin: “Phew! Almost on time! Good thing you drove fast before we reached Hamburg, because all that construction and the tunnel sucked. I’m craving electrons! Gimmi, gimmi, gimmi!”

Me: “Hold your horses, you still have 10% left, but sure, let’s get you back to 80%. I’ll just find somewhere to discharge myself…”

20 minutes later

Colin: “Hey, charging power is down below 100kW, let’s go dude!”

Me: “Take it easy, I’m having a snack. Just give me 5 minutes.”

Colin: “Bummer. My tires are getting cold…”

Near city of Soltau, Friday 18:52

Me: “Hey, why are you getting off the Autobahn? We’re supposed to stay on the A7!”

Colin: “Sorry, look at those red streaks 50 km ahead. I think it’s an accident. We have to take another route. I have Navigate on Autopilot on, so let me handle the off-ramp. Here we go. Whoops!”

Me: “That was too rough, Colin! You do those off-ramp manoeuvres more smoothly in Denmark. Must be the way the Germans paint those lines going abruptly to the right. You aimed for the ditch, pal! Don’t worry, I got it.”

Colin: “Sorry, yes, I tend to stick to the road markings. I’m still not very good at reading between the lines, so to speak. Anyway, when you took over by forcing the steering wheel, I sent a report to my creator about the problem. They will improve me soon.”

Me: “It’s cool, Colin. Just relax. I’ll have some fun with these back roads for a while.”

South of city of Hannover, Friday 20:09

Me: “Finally! We are back on the A7. Take over a bit, will you? Those back roads were not as fun as expected. Too much traffic. Could have used Autopilot more, but I got tired of switching it on and off through all those small cities without lane markings. It’s really scary when you start swaying left and right searching for line markings!”

Colin: “I know, sorry, I’m trying to learn. That’s why it’s so important you stay alert. There’s a reason the software is still in Beta.”

Me: “Right, I keep forgetting that. You really are like a teenage driver, but with the strange exception that you don’t remember what you learn until your next software update.”

Colin: “Yes, but the cool thing is that what I learn, every other Tesla car learns too, and vice versa. Nice to get an increase in speed, BTW. My initial estimate to the hotel was sliding. Dial me up in speed so we can catch up!”

Me: “Alright, but I’ll give you 140 km/h only. Don’t want to risk another punishment from you today!”

Colin: “Ha ha!”

Charging at Rhüden Supercharger, Friday 20:43

Colin: “That was nice and stable, and only slightly above the speed limit, right? I wasn’t looking. It’s dark, so my cameras were concentrating on lane markings!”

Me: “Yeah, it really was a nice stretch. I can see you don’t really need more juice, but I need a bite to eat, so just go ahead and top off a bit.”

Colin: “Alright, but hurry up! My ETA is sliding again!”

Arriving at Flux Biohotel, near city of Hann. Münden, Friday 21:58

Me: “Close call. The reception closes in two minutes!”

Colin: “I had no info on that bloody construction work all the way to Göttingen. Sorry about that.”

Me: “No worries. We made it, didn’t we? You were only 20 minutes off in your initial estimate. Pretty good, I think! Although, I really had to punch it these last 40 km…”

Colin: “Thanks. Well, it was fun. My very first +600 km almost-nonstop stretch! And tomorrow those Kassel hills — can’t wait!”

Me: “I got this parking space for you. They have an ordinary 13 amp, 240 volt plug, so I’ll plug you in and turn your onboard charger down to 10 amps to make sure you don’t cause a blown fuse or any fires in this nice hotel. You’re at 50% charge now, so a nice long slow charge will soothe your batteries. Sleep tight.”

Colin: “Ahhh. Nice…”

Tesla charging

11 hours later

Tesla autobahn

Me: “Rise and shine! Frankfurt awaits! Ready Colin?”

Colin: “Oh yeah! Since you woke me up with the app while you had breakfast, I have been heating the battery, cabin, seats, and windows. Let’s go! Let’s go!”

Me: “Easy now! You remind of a puppy I had as a kid. Good lord, look at those hills…”

Charging at Mücke Supercharger, Saturday 9:56

Tesla Charging at Mücke Supercharger

Colin: “That was fun! Did you notice I had to restrict my Autopilot turning capability in some of those curves at 140 km/h?”

Me: “I did. I was holding the steering wheel tight, but you did fine. I didn’t have to take over. Well, except for a couple of times when you were too slow to make a decision to overtake a slower car.”

Colin: “I know. I can’t seem to do that faster here in Europe. And you have to confirm everything.”

Me: “That’s fine. The trick is to be aware of what you’re good at and what I’m good at, and work together. In any case, I would not be entirely comfortable with you changing lanes by yourself yet. You simply seem too insecure and hesitant.”

Colin: “I’ll get better over time. It’s incredibly complicated to access the speeds of so many vehicles at once on top of anticipating what their next move will be. Humans are so unpredictable!”

Me: “Right. And I wonder if your brain is big enough? Is it HW 2.5 or HW 3 in there? Anyway, let’s get on with it. You didn’t really need to charge, but I just needed a short break to call home, and these short 5 minute — 50 km added — top-ups are so easy.”

Arriving at Messe Frankfurt, Saturday 11:24

Messe Frankfurt

Colin: “We have arrived at our destination. Let’s go see some cars!”

Me: “Sorry, Colin — you have to stay here in the parking lot, but I’ll take photos and write a nice article about all the shiny cars in there, and you can read it later on your browser, okay?”

Colin: “Bummer. I forgot I’m just a car. Cars just park most of the time. But my creator has promised me that one day I can drive around with other people when my owner doesn’t need me!”

Me: “Yes! That’ll be cool, right? You’ll have fun, and I’ll make money! Well, I have to be honest with you, Colin — I’ll believe it when I see it. However, I would not have invested in you had I not believed that it would be possible at some point.”

Colin: “My creator says all electric cars in the future will be fully autonomous, but that Tesla will be the first go live!”

Me: “I hope so, but when even your cabin overheat protection doesn’t work, I have my doubts…”

Colin: “Overheat?”

Me: “Yes! It’s 25 degrees Celsius now, and it’s super annoying that the option is there but I can’t select it to keep your cabin from reaching 50!”

Colin: “Oh, I didn’t know. You go look at cars and I’ll talk to my creator about that! Maybe a future OTA update will fix that. Just check in on the app once in a while and turn on the AC if I get too hot…”

Me: “I will. Curious to see how the other brands show off their electric vehicle packages…”

Audi e-tron

Tidbits from the long drive home, Sunday

Colin: “Holy cow! That was bloody fast! Had to tighten the steering wheel up for you there to keep stable.”

Me: “Yes I noticed that. Very clever way to make it feel like you’re running on rails. There was no speed limit, it was four lanes, and no traffic. Had to try to go all out.”

Colin: “Okay, but let’s not rush it. I’m all for thrilling rides, but safety first.”

Me: “Despite the occasional stretches at high speed, it’s astonishing how low your average energy consumption is. It stays around 200 Wh per km! (322 Wh per mile)”

Colin: “Yes, well, only having the switched reluctance motor in the rear, and the largest battery, my creator really nailed the energy efficiency formula. Guess my gearing is also optimised at relatively high speed since the consumption does not change that much in the 100–140 km/h range (60–90 mph). But of course those long stretches of construction work at 80 km/h also helps to keep the average down.”

Me: “Still, our average speed is very acceptable overall, including charging stops. On this trip I have never stopped to charge only because you needed it, but primarily because I needed a break dictated by human limitations. Quite the opposite of what I have tried in Nissan LEAFs and BMW i3s.”

Colin: “Yeah, I noticed. I never got really hungry, and I’m always waiting for you! Imagine if I had exhaust that I needed to dump.”

Me: “Ha ha…”

Me: “You know what’s really annoying with your driving, Colin?”

Colin: “You’re hurting my feelings. … No, what?”

Me: “The way you brake and accelerate in heavy traffic, especially on long bends.”

Colin: “Oh, I think I know what you’re getting at…”

Me: “Yeah, I mean, there we are cruising along nicely, and then we approach a car in front and you slam the brakes! Well, no, not really, but you don’t ease off as smoothly as I would have done. In the bends, it happens even when cars are approaching in other lanes while we have free space in front of us.”

Colin: “Well, first of all, did you notice the Germans use a lot of concrete for roads? It’s very bright, and worn lane markings are hard to see, so sometimes I’m not sure whether the cars in other lanes are about to shift and I might get overly cautious.”

Me: “You’re right. You seem more confident on black tarmac. But still, even with perfect visibility, you sometimes jerk a lot. I don’t know. It seems like you’re not thinking ahead, like it’s natural for us humans to do.”

Colin: “Think ahead? How so?”

Me: “Well, remember just a few minutes ago. You were on Navigate on Autopilot, and you suggested a lane change despite that BMW closing up from behind really fast. You must have seen it with your rear camera, but didn’t anticipate its velocity. You have to be able to predict all possible near-future positions of all other cars around you in order to make smooth transitions. Heck, I can do that, and I only have two eyes with very narrow focus that I have to shift between front view, side, and rear mirrors constantly, leaving me with a fraction of the visibility capability compared to you.”

Colin: “My creator says that autonomy will be solved when vision is solved, but yeah, a rear-facing radar would be handy. Much of my abrupt behavior originates from my ultrasonic sensors, I think, maybe.”

Me: “Okay, we’ll see what future updates will bring forth. Until then I’ll treat you as a teenager with no experience whatsoever. I want to trust you, Colin, but I really can’t do that yet.”

Colin: “That sucks…”

Arriving home, Sunday 16:58

Me: “That’s it, Colin. 1,799 km. You tired? Any parts needing a checkup?”

Colin: “Nope. Let’s go again!”

Me: “Well, although this was by far the most comfortable road trip I’ve ever had, I’m only human, and my bones needs other activities than relaxing in your soft seat. See you tomorrow for just another boring commute.”

Colin: “I’m here for ya’! Always ready! While I sip on your 400 volt and 16 amp wall charger, I’ll just connect to your WiFi, call up headquarters, and check for updates. … Uh! Looks like a version 10 is up next!”

All photos by the author (and dashcam footage by Colin)

Feel free to use my referral code (or anybody else’s) when you buy a Tesla to get some free Supercharger miles: jesper18367 
 
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About the Author

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of Lifelike.dk.



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