April 6, 2021: Life w/o AP

One day we'll just punch in coordinates and let the nav computer take care of the rest.

It took me a while, but I'm finally realizing that Autopilot assistance or Full Self-Driving isn't something I want to live without.

After spending time in a 75D loaner without Autosteer or TACC enabled, jumping back into Big Blue with even the original (and now relatively limited) Autopilot capabilities emphasized notable differences in the driving experience. It's obvious in hindsight, but this epiphany dawned on me in slow-motion as AP became more convincing over time and not just something mentally reserved for science fiction universes. I've become very comfortable with Tesla's software managing hardware cruising at 65+ mph where a single bad automated decision could lead to instant injury or death. When Autosteer became available in 2015 most Model S owners were rightfully skeptical and hesitant to trust the car but the technology has gone through many micro-iterations since then. And AP has still more room to evolve.

Driving the 75D annoyed me when managing the accelerator because the forward radar wasn't being used to keep a fixed distance with the car ahead. Basic cruise control was there, but it still meant I had to be careful not to speed into the car in front of me. That manual distance-keeping thing is such a chore.

Since Autosteer was disabled I had to, you know, actively turn the steering wheel to ensure the car was staying centered within lane boundaries. In a sense the loaner wasn't all that much better than my old 5-speed manual that I barely drive anymore. We're in the 21st century, right? Don't we have computers or something?

Changing lanes - good heavens, do I really have to do this check-the-next-lane-over and time it just right to insert the car there without potentially ramming someone? How do you people live like this?!

Spoiled, I am. And while adaptive cruise control is pretty common nowadays, automatic steering and lane changing is still catching on with other car makers. Although there's a side of me that doesn't fully trust Autopilot and dutifully keep my hands on the wheel, I nevertheless rely on it heavily on freeways. I'm sure newer AP hardware is more reliable since it gets all the development attention and has a much longer support lifespan than my Mobileye-based system. But the point is that freeway driving (or typical local A-to-B runs) isn't exciting and it's nice to be able to let AP do the heavy lifting while I keep an eye on it. It removes a lot of fatigue from the routine, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

I sometimes wonder whether Autopilot is contributing to complacency. Or will future Autopilot be so good that it'll be much more reliably safer than me, a fault-ridden emotional human with less-than-ideal reaction time manning the helm and rotating the wheel? Has my focus shifted away from the road to daydreaming as soon as the blue lines enhance the digital lanes? Am I more prone to picking up the phone and checking my latest Slack messages?

No, not really as my attention is constantly on the road and the cars around me. I still interact with the wheel and pedals frequently, disengaging Autopilot if I feel the car's braking a little too aggressively even though I'm at a relatively safe distance (I prefer smoother deceleration if there's sufficient spacing with other vehicles). I also try to keep an eye one or two vehicles ahead for upcoming congestion and potential sudden stops. I'm all too aware how expensive it'd be to repair fender benders and how fast my insurance rates will climb.

With Auto Lane Change I'm still checking mirrors and looking over my shoulder. I seem to be constantly focused on whether the car is lane-centered both in real life and what's displayed in the instrument cluster. My brain seems to always be mindful about mud getting on the windshield/camera and the immediate effect it would have on how the car handles the situation going forward.

That's the future I'm living in right now with AP1.

It's not as polished as AP2 or 3 and the HAL 9000 behind it, but it's still way better than Autopilot-less driving.

It's unlikely I'll be experiencing FSD in the near future since I'm not planning to change cars for quite some years. Purchasing Big Blue was a huge emotional investment, but when I do finally get that last drop of utility and my S85 reaches end-of-life it might be a different world with what's available from Tesla or a dealer lot. Or maybe robotaxis will be so common by then that owning a physical vehicle would no longer make economic sense. Sure, there's a certain pleasure in handling the vehicle under my own direction and steering the mechanical horse on twisty backroads, but if I could instead use the typical commute time to catch up on work or otherwise gain a productive net benefit while sitting in the passenger seat, an autonomous vehicle would be a better use of my limited time. If you conservatively estimate a person's daily commute at perhaps an hour, that's over 200 hours annually going to/from work while trying to make the most out of life by listening to a podcast.

If all goes according to plan, one day I'll get in a car with my destination already set up in the nav and the Tesla Hyperlane will be activated. After maybe a half-hour online meeting I'll arrive at the office already engaged in today's productivity without having touched a single control in the car. That's the dream, and I can't imagine what life would be like without Autopilot/Full Self-Driving.