Taking Tesla autopilot on a 33-mile test drive

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Tesla has been pushing the envelope for automobiles for a few years now. Last week it did it again when it pushed out a software update for the Tesla P85D that imbues the electric vehicle with autopiloting superpowers. Barnacules Nerdgasm—a Youtube personality and former Microsoft engineer—put his life at risk to test out the autopilot so you don’t have to.

Self-driving cars seem to be the future. Google is hard at work on its self-driving cars, which are being tested on public roads in California and in Austin, Texas. Apple is rumored to be working on its own self driving vehicle allegedly codenamed Project Titan. Elon Musk and Tesla just leap-frogged them both, though, by making autopilot available for cars that are already on the road.

Barnacules Nerdgasm, AKA “Jerry”, managed to swindle a friend into letting him put the new autopilot technology to the test less than 24 hours after the update became available. Actually, maybe the friend tricked Jerry into being the Guinea pig to find out if the Tesla can actually drive itself without killing the driver or any innocent bystanders in the process. Either way, Barnacules took the 762-horsepower Tesla P85D on a 33-mile autopilot road trip and lived to tell the story.

You can watch the video embedded here. Warning, the video is long and contains some mild, but arguably NSFW language at times:

Barnacules took the Tesla on some rural roads as well as the highway. The 33-mile trip provided ample opportunity to test out the capabilities of the autopilot feature. In the beginning he is understandably tense, bordering on paranoid. It has to be a tad surreal to be sitting in the driver’s seat with the gas and brake pedals at your feet and the steering wheel in front of you, and yet touch none of it as if you’re just a passenger. Over time—as the car successfully navigated different scenarios without crashing—he gets more comfortable and relaxed about the whole thing.

He gave the autopilot a 10 out of 10 for handling after it was able to negotiate various situations like a police car pulled off on the side of the road with the officer getting out and walking around, and a driver who slammed on his brakes and changed lanes at 10mph on the highway. He also noted that the autopilot brakes later than he generally would, saying, “You can tell that the car has a hell of a lot more confidence in its abilities than I do. It’s like, ‘Aw yeah! Pfft. 20 feet? I can go from a hundred to zero in 20 feet. I’m good.’”

I have actually seen a few different videos of Tesla owners checking out the autopilot feature and I have to say it looks amazing. That said, there is a difference between autopilot and autonomous self-driving. The Tesla feature is more like cruise control on steroids but you still need to be paying attention and prepared to react if necessary. You can’t just take a nap and expect the car to get you home in one piece.

The Tesla blog post announcing autopilot explains:

Tesla Autopilot relieves drivers of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel. We’re building Autopilot to give you more confidence behind the wheel, increase your safety on the road, and make highway driving more enjoyable. While truly driverless cars are still a few years away, Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear. The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car. What’s more, you always have intuitive access to the information your car is using to inform its actions.

“This is amazing technology. It’s great, but, even on the freeway, you still need to be paying attention,” agrees Barnacules. “You really do, because it’s not a substitute for the driver, it’s just a tool to help the driver. This can extend your range once you get used to it—once you get used to the quirks and everything just like cruise control. It’s gonna lessen the burden on you on your trip, but if you just check out, like full-blown automation, and expect it to be your valet, it’s going to be a pretty crappy valet.”

No matter how you look at it, the Tesla autopilot is mind blowing technology. We’re still a few years away probably from limited use of completely autonomous vehicles like the Google self driving car, and yet Tesla was able to add an autopilot option after the fact to cars that are already on the street through a software update. With a little refinement and some integration with GPS mapping and navigation it’s conceivable that in the very near future you really could catch some sleep on the way home.

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Tony Bradley is a social media, community, and content marketing wizard--and also Editor-in-Chief of TechSpective. Tony has a passion for technology and gadgets--with a focus on Microsoft and security. He also loves spending time with his family and likes to think he enjoys reading and golf even though he never finds the time for either.