The “fully autonomous driving” of the Model 3 required a lot of human intervention to protect us and everyone else on the road. Sometimes that meant pressing the brake to turn off the software, so it wouldn’t try to get around a car in front of us. Other times, we quickly shook the steering wheel to avoid an accident. (Tesla tells drivers to pay constant attention to the road and be ready to act immediately.)
I was hoping the car wouldn’t make stupid mistakes anymore. After what seemed like an eternity, the children were done crossing. I expired.
We were clear to take our turn. The car seemed too hesitant at first, but then I noticed a cyclist coming from our left. We waited.
Once the cyclist crossed the intersection, the car stopped and made a smooth turn.
“Fully autonomous driving” is a $ 10,000 driver assistance feature offered by Tesla. While all new Tesla are capable of using the “fully autonomous driving” software, buyers must opt for the expensive addition if they want to access the functionality. The software is still in beta and is currently only available to a select group of Tesla owners, although CEO Elon Musk has said a wider rollout is imminent. Musk promises that “fully autonomous driving” will be fully capable of getting a car to its destination in the near future.
But it doesn’t do that. Far from there.
Tesla owners have described the technology as impressive but also flawed. One instant it drives perfectly, the next instant it almost hit something.
We asked Jason to meet us on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. It is an urban artery that carries thousands of cars, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians to Manhattan. Even for experienced human drivers, this can be a challenge.
Brooklyn offered us a chance to see how close Tesla’s autonomous driving software was to replacing human drivers. It’s the kind of place humans drive because they have to, not the kind of place chosen by corporate headquarters. This is where self-driving cars can have the most impact.
At one point we were driving in the right hand lane of Flatbush. A construction site is looming. The car continued at full speed towards a row of metal fences.
But this time I was sitting in the back seat. I instinctively raised my right arm like the Heisman Trophy, as if to protect myself in a crash.
It was a time when I wished “fully autonomous driving” had changed lanes quickly. In other cases, I would have liked him to relax in his aggressive turns.
Full self-driving sometimes makes jerky turns. The wheel begins to turn, then backs up, before turning again in the intended direction. Staggered corners don’t usually seem to bother in large suburban curves, but in a dense city built largely before cars, it’s uncomfortable.
There is also the braking, which can seem random. At one point, a car came close to the rear and stopped us after braking which surprised me. Getting honked was common. I never really felt like I knew what “fully autonomous driving” would do next. Asking a “fully autonomous drive” to navigate Brooklyn was like asking a student driver to take a road test he wasn’t ready for yet.
What “fully autonomous driving” could do was impressive, but the experience was ultimately confusing. I can’t imagine using “fully autonomous driving” on a regular basis in a city. I noticed that I was reluctant to look at the Model 3’s dashboard, for example to check our speed, because I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road.
Tesla owners regularly tell me how Autopilot, the highway-focused predecessor of “fully autonomous driving,” makes their commutes less stressful. They arrive at their destination feeling less tired. Some have told me that they are more likely to take long trips in the car because of the autopilot.
But “fully autonomous driving” looked the other way around. I felt that I had to be constantly on my guard to keep the car from doing anything wrong.
In the end, seeing “fully autonomous driving” in Brooklyn reminded me of the importance of the intricacies of driving, which is difficult to master for a car powered by artificial intelligence. Things like pulling slightly into the intersection on a narrow road to make a left turn, so the traffic behind you has room to move. “Fully autonomous driving” remained in place as frustrated drivers behind us honked their horns.
For now, “fully autonomous driving” seems more like a party trick to show off to friends than a must-have feature.