Today during my random drive adventures in Seattle, WA, I managed to stop at Tesla's Westlake site (435 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109) to see what would happen if I asked a Sales Person about whether any of their cars were Autonomous Vehicles.
Tesla Sales Person: Welcome to Tesla!
Me: AV, AV, AV, AV, Transportation Planning, AV, AV, AV...
Grace was kind enough to give me a detailed explanation of Tesla's Autonomous Vehicle features, but was very quick to state that they do not have fully autonomous cars, yet.
To give you some background context in understanding where the auto industry is at with mass producing Autonomous Vehicles (AV), you should first understand the basics of AV. Back in 2014 The Intnerational Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) created the standard language for labeling the levels of automation for autonomous vehicles. Their are 6-levels of automation, that range from 0-5. The SAE levels of automation ascend from SAE level-0 = no AV, to SAE level-5= full automation (SAE, 2016).
Right now the current state of cars capable of being labeled as SAE level-5 AV, does not exist. It's almost as if it's a figment of our imagination, and the car industry is hustln' us. The reality is for the car industry is that they are in somewhat of a flux given that there is a race for who will produce the 1st 100% self-driving car (SAE level-5).
Various car manufactures have announced their investments in mass producing fully autonomous vehicles (AV). Here's the most up to date forecast for the release of level-5 AV's:
Volvo: Late 2020's
So where is Tesla now with AV?
Tesla's vehicles are at the Partial Automation SAE level-2. Meaning these cars can complete some common driving tasks, but need the driver to be aware of their surrounding environment just in case the driver has to take back control of the car. The newest 2017 semi-autonomous vehicle features for Tesla are included in their Enhanced Autopilot package, "which is an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), that controls vehicle speed and path by automated control of braking, steering and torque to the drive motors." (NHTSA, 2017). The Autopilot package includes: Automatic Emergency Braking, Collision Warning, Lane Changing Assistance, Cruise Control, Car Summoning, and Auto Steer.
There were only 2 cars at the Tesla Westlake dealership that had the Autopilot features: The Model S & the Model X.
Model S (SAE level 2) @ the Westlake Tesla Dealership
Autopilot is driven by the hardware which has 12 dots = ultrasonic sensors that can be found all around the lower portion of the car. Each of the 12-ultrasonic sensors are capable of reaching out to 16'. This provides the car with a 360 view of the cars street environment. The sensors read a limited amount of transit street design elements, which include:road lanes, curbs, nearby cars, but excludes people, bicyclist, roadway signs, and anything else that makes up the urban environment.
The car has camera's that work with the ultrasonic sensors to read the vehicles surrounding environment. This camera can view up to 196'.
This is another radar located in the front of the vehicle's windshield.
The Autopilot setting features allow you to automatically: cruise control, steer, park, change lanes, change the level of speed, and notify you of collisions. Note that the Model S at this location didn't contain the full Enhanced Autopilot package.
Tesla Sales Person: How about we schedule you for a test drive with the Model X, which has the full Enhanced Autopilot package.