By Jim Ringold
A good friend wrote to me recently: “We all know you fell in love with German cars. But why did you fall in love with a self-driving thing? “
It’s basically the same question as stick shift versus automatic transmission. Both control and shift can provide very personal satisfaction when performed well, and extreme satisfaction when done extremely well.
I made a point out of specifying the “Muncie Rock Crusher” close-ratio stick shift, four speeds, when I checked the order boxes on my beloved 1968, 327 cubic inch Corvette. It was not as fast as the almost equally affordable 428 “truck engine” Vette, but it was a more satisfying and balanced ride and a real pleasure to drive up to 6,000 rpm in each gear. So I know and love “do it yourself” driving.
Finally, a better electronic interface between the accelerator pedal, the transmission and the fuel-injected gas engine made “automatic” shifting faster and more reliable than a “stick”. Additional automatic gears, six or more gears, kept gas engines in their low revs, high torque range to improve efficiency and reduce pollution somewhat. Gasoline burners currently provide a smooth and efficient movement and are on top of their achievable performance from a gallon of gas. But they still pollute.
As for why I “fell out of love” for BMW after a baker dozen BMWs between my wife and I, including the delicious “M” cars? Well, it’s a different story for a different time and a different place.
After BMWs, a leap in faith put us in possession of an early Tesla Model X. The love affair with a fully battery-powered, plug-in-to-charge vehicle flourished. The trips to a “gas station” were over to inhale volatile substances and pay for the privilege. Gone was the “shift” of the transmission, as the wide torque range of an electric motor made the extremely complicated electro / mechanical marvel obsolete and unnecessary. The side effects were reduced vehicle costs and lighter vehicle weight – a win-win if ever there was one.
Our second Tesla was a Model 3, which we physically lined up to reserve the first day it was for sale. We invested $ 4,000 in autopilot because I correctly guessed that the price would never get cheaper. On January 17, 2022, Tesla “Full Self Driving” (FSD), the most advanced version of Autopilot, will go from $ 10,000 to $ 12,000.
FSD has taken longer to achieve than Elon Musk and his crew had ever imagined, but they have stuck to it and several major revisions in the approach later, that is close to what we paid for. These incremental revisions and updates were implemented in our garage with a feed from our Internet connection, delivered via Wi-Fi to Model 3. As an endless series of surprise packages, the improved driving characteristics keep coming our way. . It’s exciting to see the improvements.
The ability to summon your driverless Tesla to you hundreds of feet away is fun and helpful in keeping your feet dry in the rain. Even the Model X was enhanced with the ability to stay in its highway lane and eventually pass slower cars. The “self-driving thing”, although limited in capacity, I have found that it greatly reduces fatigue in long-distance driving. Not constantly looking to make sure the car is in the middle of its lane is certainly not a macho thing, but rather leads to attention-grabbing boredom. In fact, I found that rides were safer because I could let my eyes wander and better take events that unfolded with the other cars around me, even without eyes in the back of my head.
The early Model X was limited, as I was, by the lack of 360-degree visibility because it was not equipped with the later four side cameras. But it still had the most desirable driving characteristics.
Tesla determined early on that the Mobileye software and NVIDIA processor used, although good, would not allow full self-driving. Like Tesla’s winning way of doing things, the Autopilot software was brought home. And a computer hardware design genius was asked to design a computer processor dedicated to the tasks required for FSD. And when the new processor was implemented, there were two of them in a completely redundant configuration, which should be mandatory in a self-driving vehicle. The icing on the cake was a free – as in, completely free – upgrade in all Teslas that included the FSD software package. Note for BMW, note.
So, after many years of waiting, I now have those eyes in the back of my head, and incidentally also on the sides. My peripheral vision is now also superhuman. After driving extremely carefully (and my wife was better than me for the Tesla Safety Score test), we were allowed by Tesla to start using the FSD beta software. The surprise packages got better and more frequent as Tesla drivers gave feedback to the Tesla mothership.
Devices used to allow full self-driving
Both of our Teslas had forward-looking microwave radars, at a selected frequency, to see through rain and fog, but FSD development led to a point where the Tesla team learned that what the cameras (now eight) saw did not need to be processed. to provide the necessary FSD information. The raw data from the photons collected by the cameras could reach the image processing stage milliseconds faster if this processing was eliminated. In fact, it also made seeing at night, in rain and in fog much better.
At the same time, a problem for the team was the fact that the radar and the cameras provided information at different speeds, and it was difficult for the computer to synchronize the two. Moreover, how should the processor know which one to believe as the information flowed in, in two completely different forms? The result was that radar information was increasingly ignored, and in newer Teslas, the radar was totally eliminated.
Back to the current state of FSD: with FSD on city streets in beta, a Tesla can now negotiate traffic on all roads, even roads it has never been on before. It sees and processes only the important information without distracting or blinking, with eyes (cameras) all around to form a 360-degree continuous field of view. Better than a human, more like a fly.
I am fully aware and trying to compensate for not being as attentive and attentive as I once was when I get older. But the Model 3 is never distracted. It’s annoying at first, my wife says scary. But part of it is that Tesla is not listening to her! An example of a 360-degree view: In FSD, our Tesla drove into the right-turn lane and stopped at the red light at an intersection that is six lanes in both directions. Holding the steering wheel, I looked at the traffic that the Model 3 was. We saw cars turn in front of us from an opposite left turn lane. And there was traffic coming from the left. All that traffic cleared up, and the Tesla still did not reach the “right on red” turn. I looked around and only then did I see that a cyclist had come up on my right side and was considering pulling out to the right of me. I had not imagined that a bicycle would show up there, but the car saw it!
I’m going to love more advanced FSD, no blow to the ego – just a safer ride. Nice will be the day when everyone has an FSD car. Just not so much for the car insurance companies! And besides being safer, it’s just fun for me!
There are many wise people at Tesla who work at full self-driving, pouring miles of code over and refining it. Their efforts show true improvement month after month.
I would rate that FSD is about to be ready to be released to anyone who has paid for it. It’s so close to being opened up to the extra tweaking that thousands of additional Teslas sending feedback will provide.
Another tip for this pending release is this saying with Tesla’s current FSD improvements:
“For maximum safety and accountability, the use of full self-propelled (Beta) will be suspended if incorrect use is detected. Improper use is when you, or another driver of your vehicle, receive five ‘Forced autopilot disconnections’. A disconnection is when the autopilot system is disengaged for the remainder of a turn after the driver has received several audible and visual warnings of inattention. Driver-initiated disengages do not count as improper use and are expected of the driver. of handheld devices while using autopilot is not allowed. And will be detected by the ninth, inside the car, camera. “
Tesla is preparing for the addicts who always raise their heads, the unhappy competition that is trying to stop progress, and those that are trying to sell more ink. But I can see what the future brings and it’s safe and fun. That’s why I’m falling in love with FSD. Plus, you can always take over and drive your Tesla like in the old days!
Here is a quote, for your reference, of a quite complete list of Teslarati of the current FSD features: “Tesla FSD (Full Self Driving) features Navigate on Autopilot Beta, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Summon, Smart Summon and Traffic and Stop Sign Control Beta, as well as the autopilot’s two features: Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Auto Steering. Tesla FSD is missing one feature (from full release): Autosteer on City Streets, which has been under development for several years. “
Article by Jim Ringold – [email protected] – exclusively for CleanTechnica.
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