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Initial impressions on Tesla full self driving beta
I was recently accepted into the Tesla full self-driving beta program. This was about 2 weeks ago and I probably been in the driver seat while the car is been driving for about 300 to 350 mi now and I wanted to share some initial thoughts that I've had with the behavior of the car.
Firstly, I'm not officially affiliated with Tesla in any way but I do own some stock with Tesla. I definitely identify as being a fan of Tesla overall for what it's worth, so keep that in mind as I share my opinions.
I have a brand new 2022 performance model Y. The car is only a few weeks old and I've been pleasantly surprised in that I've been getting pretty much the latest version of self-driving almost immediately whenever a new version is published.
For the people who have not ridden or driven in a Tesla, let's break down a few of the concepts that the car has. Firstly, the car has what it calls autopilot which is basically just a combination of lane keeping and adaptive cruise control. This is the system that you can pretty much get right out of the box as soon as you buy a car and is almost exclusively used on freeways. The next step up from autopilot is navigation on autopilot which will do things like take the exit off of the freeway for you based on the GPS navigation that you input into your car when you start your trip. The last step up is what they call the full self-driving mode. The FSD mode has "chill", "average", and "assertive" profiles that control how much the car might change lanes, affect follow distance, etc
All three of these modes require that you are still paying attention to your surroundings and the expectation is that you might still have to take over. In the FSD mode, there's a camera in the inside of the car that watches you to make sure that you're still paying attention to the roads and not sitting in your phone or sleeping. If you are deemed to not be paying attention too many times, the car will refuse to let you use FSD features until Tesla decides to clear your strikes which has only happened once so far. You must also occasionally provide feedback to the steering wheel's torque sensor, so that the car knows you're still paying attention. There is a report button which you can press any time you want and the car will upload a snippet of recent video to Tesla for them to review.
Practically though, how would I rate the experience itself? How confident do I feel about being in the driver's seat?
The feeling of the car driving is very unnatural to me as a human. The car purely by itself relies heavily on speed limit signs and map data to know how fast it should be going at any point in time which leads to very awkward situations. In some neighborhood areas, I've learned that apparently, the speed limit is 35 MPH, which is insanely fast for a downtown residential street where you can barely fit one car going down the street. Sometimes 35 MPH is too slow, as is the case for taking a free way on ramp. The car will turn on to the on ramp and slowly creep along until it finds another speed limit sign to let it go faster. There's a scroll wheel on the steering wheel that lets you manual control speed which makes the whole thing much more palatable overall. The car doesn't adjust it's own speed based on current traffic conditions, so if you do nothing and people are going faster than the speed limit, then you'll be the slow poke that everyone is passing.
The highway autopilot is quite good at lane keeping, but the FSD beta mode seems to have a strong affinity for centering itself in lane, and when a lane widens for any reason, you'll find yourself in the center of the open area even if it would have been more natural to just stay closer to the yellow lines. Inversely, on very tight lanes, the car is willing to get so much closer to curbs or other cars than I am. Presumably this is because the car has a better sense of where everything is but I definitely get uncomfortable with it. After all, this is my brand new car and it wasn't exactly cheap. On very wide intersections, the car has struggled to keep in it's own lane and has occasionally ended up changing lanes as we go through the intersection. The few times that it's done that, the car was confident that there were no obstructions. Despite that maneuver being illegal, and feeling unnatural, I can confirm that there was plenty of room and that I was safe in the car as it happened. I firmly believe that if there were more cars around me in those situations, the car would actually do a better job knowing where to stay, using other cars as lane line guides. Which, speaking of which, when there aren't any lane lines visible or other cars around to provide guidance, the car definitely takes it's liberties for where the car thinks it needs to be. This is very similar to my earlier comment about lane centering. On some streets in my neighborhood, the car will drive right in the center of the whole street.
I've kept my car in the "average" profile and have had less than ideal but acceptable results overall, but I do feel curious about the "assertive" profile. When the car is to take unprotected left turns, it creeps out very unnaturally and slowly and doesn't seem to have any confidence. I tend to have to press on the accelerator which will speed the car up as it does the steering through the turn. Inversely, when there is a dedicated right turn lane and the light is green, the car seems all too happy to zoom right through the turn, sometimes even accelerating through the turn. If you're fast enough your can scroll the speed limit down in those situations but without intervention, some of those right turns can feel extra scary. When navigating to your destination, the car really waits until the very last minute to try and switch into turn lanes. I was in downtown Denver with the car a few nights ago and there was a right turn lane that I needed to be in which had cars lined up for almost 2 miles worth of lights. The car just kept cruising along, not even turning on it's blinker, until we were a few hundred feet away. The car stopped at the light, turned on it's blinker, and appeared to be waiting to be let in. In this case I took over immediately to drive through the light and let navigation reroute. The car does not find you a parking spot automatically when you arrive at your destination, so I've had the car awkwardly slow down on streets where parking spots happen to be right in front of the destination.
When the car is driving, you can take over simply by turning the wheel and breaking the car's own torque threshold, or you can lightly tap on the break. Either will immediately give you control back. If the car detects an emergency, it will start beeping at you with a truly unpleasant sound. I haven't experienced this at all yet myself though. But from the videos I've watched, if this happens and you weren't already paying attention, the car doesn't give you an alert early enough for you to regain context then react. But when I've watched these situations happen, since the drivers were still following guidelines and paying attention, there was no accident. These situations were also sketchy situations even if you were driving the entire time.
All in all, I've really enjoyed my experience with the FSD beta. As much as I've had my critiques, my stance is that once you've learned about some of these behaviors, you can learn to intervene in your own which just helps the training data set anyways. When I'm at an unprotected left, just tap the accelerator to let the car go through the light. When I know a turn is coming up thanks to the navigation, I just turn on the blinker myself much earlier to get into the correct lane. When there aren't other cars around and you're crossing a huge intersection, you can know to correct the steering wheel. The FSD visualizations and navigation data make it very clear that the intersection is large. There's definitely a learning curve for these behaviors, but otherwise, anecdotally, the other 95% of the time the car has been great at driving. As I'm learning about the quirks of the various streets and intersections that I frequently hit, letting the car do the rest of the monotonous driving has been awesome. I think the FSD has large amounts of areas to improve in, overall, but again, as an augment for 95% of my driving, it's been lovely.
I don't drink, but if I did and I were shit faced, I'd feel comfortable in thinking that the car would get me home as long as I could keep my eyes open enough for the driver engagement system. The ride might be rough, and people behind you might get some road rage thanks to how slow you are at turns, but I think I'd still end up in front of my house out in the suburbs. To be clear, this is not an endorsement of drinking and driving.
That being said, I haven't had the opportunity to turn FSD on in heavy weather conditions, nor do I honestly think I'd be comfortable doing that either. It's behavior without lane lines and the fact that I don't think it accounts for potential sliding make me not want to use the FSD in the snow. I think this will be an entirely new category to tackle.