Let’s make one thing clear: despite what you may have in your head, Tesla’s recently updated Autopilot can not safely navigate a highway off-ramp for you – yet.
Tesla pushed out the Version 8.0 software update to its owners last week, including an update to Autopilot that would have the system automatically navigate highway “interchanges,” according to the release notes. An earlier company blog post concerning the update said it could handle highway “exits.”
So are some Tesla owners.
We, among many other publications, even included the update’s ability to navigate exits directly in our headline:
Included in the release notes that accompanied the wireless software update on all of Tesla’s cars on September 22nd was an exciting update to the Autopilot system. One of the new features claimed: “Autosteer now navigates highway interchanges.”
That isn’t confusing at all. A highway interchange is a ramp that takes the driver into a secluded lane, turning off of one highway and merging onto another, typically with easy curves and no stopping.
But in a blog post titled “Upgrading Autopilot: Seeing the World in Radar” published on Tesla’s website on September 11th, the “Additional Autopilot Release Notes” include the note that Autopilot “will take highway exit if indicator on (8.0) or if nav system active (8.1). Available in the United States initially.”
So what can the Autopilot software actually handle? A highway interchange is drastically different from a highway off-ramp, and the disparity between the two and the misunderstanding on the part of Tesla owners is already leading to dangerous attempts by owners to test the new “Freeway Exit” feature that their cars are not currently equipped to do.
In the video uploaded to YouTube by KmanAuto, the driver attempts to let Autopilot exit the highway automatically three times, almost causing the car to crash every time:
As you can see about a minute into the video, the driver indicates to the Autopilot system to get over into the exit lane, as the release notes instruct. The car shows the exit on the navigation map, and demonstrates the lane change in the virtual simulation on the instrument panel. However the driver immediately aborts the attempt, turning off Autopilot as he exclaims that the car isn’t slowing down.
It appears that the Autosteer feature still completed the turn. The description of the video accurately describes the system’s failure to slow down from freeway speeds when exiting as a “major flaw.” But it’s a “flaw” in that Autopilot is not equipped to exit the highway in update 8.0, despite the awkward phrasing in the series of release notes, much like any other car’s failure to take a highway offramp on their own would be a flaw due to its lack of capability.
The driver attempts a second test of letting the car exit the freeway, this time manually setting the speed 10 MPH lower to try and take the exit ramp more comfortably. The car enters the lane and again doesn’t slow down until it’s already in the turn, simultaneously asking the driver to take control of the steering wheel. Autopilot continued control of the car before nearly running a stop sign, causing the driver to manually take full control.
The system also failed to display the other vehicles that were in the multiple turn lanes of the exit ramp, with the driver claiming it has detected vehicles on previous occasions on that same exit.
In the third try in the video, the driver attempts to let the car take a different exit with a more gradual turn, but again it fails to slow down, asks the driver to take over steering and eventually causes the driver to take complete control after the system started “weaving all over the place.”
The actions of the owner in the above video are a perfect demonstration of the dangerous confusion surrounding Tesla’s latest software update. A pre-release blog post claimed that Version 8.0 would be able to “take highway exit[s],” but the actual release notes that were presented to each driver after downloading the update said that Autosteer could handle “highway interchanges.”
The fact is that the Version 8.0 update of the Autopilot and Autosteer systems are capable of handling highway interchanges, but can not navigate a highway off-ramp to exit just yet. The “tests” demonstrated in the video above are simply the driver misunderstanding the car on functions of Autopilot as it stands, as he lets the car drive itself off the highway at high speeds, which is extremely dangerous.
Autopilot can not navigate highway off-ramp exits. Do not attempt to do so.