My estimate of 2020 for fully autonomous cars on the roads, that most laughed at a few years ago when I made the prediction, is starting to look laughable in the other direction.
Please consider Tesla Adds High-Speed Autonomous Driving to Its Bag of Tricks.
On Thursday morning, Tesla owners woke up to discover that their vehicles can wirelessly download the new autopilot feature as a software update. That means the next time you see a Model S cruising next to you on the interstate, look closely: It may be driving itself.
Autopilot is not free (the download costs $2,500), and it is not yet perfected (clear lane markings are needed, and bad weather can affect its abilities), but it works remarkably well under normal circumstances.
The updated Tesla, an already high-tech electric car that starts at about $75,000, was equipped with what the company calls Autopilot — a semiautonomous feature that allows hands-free, pedal-free driving on the highway under certain conditions. The car will even change lanes autonomously at the driver’s request (by hitting the turn signal) and uses sensors to scan the road in all directions and adjust the throttle, steering and brakes.
It is the first time that a production vehicle available to consumers will have such advanced self-driving capabilities. Or more to the point, the first time they will be unleashed for driving 70 miles per hour along twisty, though clearly marked highways for long stretches. (Other manufacturers like Volvo and Mercedes-Benz recently introduced their own semiautonomous features, but limit the functions to lower speeds or require the driver to constantly touch the wheel). And it’s perfectly legal. No state, except for New York, has any law prohibiting hands-free driving.
That does not mean, of course, that drivers can simply relax and let their minds wander. The car is skilled at keeping its lane, but when lane markings disappear or are significantly faded, you have to take over.
Shortcomings and Anecdotes
Shortcomings like those listed in the previous paragraph will vanish within five years, if not two. Here’s my question: can you get these autonomous cars to drive at 9 miles over the highway speed limit?
I suggest 9 because most police will give you that. Heck, in Chicago people routine drive 80 in 55 zones, and the cops can only catch a few cars as other speed right on by. I tend to drive as fast as the fastest person in front of me, or 9 MPH over, whichever is faster.
But why shouldn’t speed limits increase on most interstate and state highways. 55 MPH on state highways is ridiculous.
In Illinois, the speed limit used to be 70 on state roads, but when everything changed to 55, those limits never changed back as happened on highways.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock