The Tesla is a clever car with lots of gadgets, but it makes for an uncomfortable ride and can be dangerously stupid at times.
I had the opportunity to drive in a “self-driving” Tesla, an automatic system that is simultaneously impressive and awful. The Tesla Model S 75D is not a fully self-driving automobile. It does, however, have a few tricks. Thanks to sensors all around it, it can drive in a well-marked line without any participation from the driver, engage in responsive breaking and accelerating based upon the speed of the car in front, and change lanes if the driver uses the turn-signal.
At all times, though, the driver has to pay attention and be ready to take control. Thus, the Tesla needs human control if the car signals that it needs help, which might happen if the lane markings vanish, or if the driver is uncomfortable with the way in which the car is handling the situation.
The car really seems to hit its stride in slow, stop-and-go traffic. It will inch forward on the freeway without the driver having to accelerate and decelerate all the time. That’s certainly less stressful. Moreover, because the dynamics in stop-and-go are very, very slow, there’s little risk of the car making a poor choice about whether to accelerate or brake. My bet is that this function stops a lot of potential fender benders.
Things are less appealing at high speeds. The first problem is that, despite the car’s periodic reminder to the driver to pay attention, the reality is that, if people don’t have to pay attention, they won’t. This is especially true given all the things one can do with the giant computer screen. The driver can’t watch a movie, but he can constantly fuss with the interface in a way no sane driver who is solely responsible for the car’s behavior would ever do. In my little jaunt, the driver several times failed to help the car when the car needed help.
The second problem, and it’s a doozy from my perspective, is that the car is a rolling puke mobile. The word “puke” is not a typo. [Read more…]