Tesla's New Self-Driving Feature. All Hype?

The term "Self-Driving" has been used a little carelessly this last week. The Tesla Model S has begun rolling out a version 7.0, which offers some assistance in driving. It is a step in the right direction, but it hasn't earned the title of "Self-Driving".

I did some research on self-driving vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has put vehicle automation into five levels. 

Source: http://www.nhtsa.gov/

No-Automation (Level 0): The driver is in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls - brake, steering, throttle, and motive power - at all times. 

Function-specific Automation (Level 1): Automation at this level involves one or more specific control functions. Examples include electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, where the vehicle automatically assists with braking to enable the driver to regain control of the vehicle or stop faster than possible by acting alone. 

Combined Function Automation (Level 2: This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions. An example of combined functions enabling a Level 2 system is adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centering. 

Limited Self-Driving Automation (Level 3): Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation. 

Full Self-Driving Automation (Level 4): The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticpates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.

Tesla defines its Model S under the Level 2. There isn't really any public transportation with anything past Level 2. Newer cars all have Level 1, and obviously the older cars have Level 0. Google is working on Level 4, but that won't be available to the public anytime soon. At this point is it really self-driving, or just enhanced cruise control?

Lane switching and adaptive cruise control aren't anything new. It will take a newer Model to have a Level 4 experience, however updates and new features are expected to roll out to existing models. These are expected to be things like stopping at lights and stop signs. It is great to see new features roll out to existing models. I would hate to fork out nearly $100,000 to get new software. 



Robert Bassett