Illustration for article titled Tesla Model S Auto Pilot Does Lane Changes For You

The "something else" at tonight's Tesla event is Auto Pilot, a new system that combines a forward facing camera and 12 sensors that see 16 feet in every direction and provide a 360-degree view the surroundings. The camera does everything from seeing other cars to reading speed limit signs. Normal fare for luxury cars. Except it will also do a lane change for you just by pressing the turn signal stalk.

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After my brief (and scary) run in the P85D, a Tesla driver took me through a course to show off Tesla's Auto-Pilot functionality. It's been built into every car rolling off the assembly line in the past two weeks, and it will be enabled by a software update, according to Musk, in two or three months. Here's how it works.

Illustration for article titled Tesla Model S Auto Pilot Does Lane Changes For You
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The sensors keep track of vehicles around you and the lanes in the road. One section of the course is a low-speed slalom; a handful of S turns in a row. The driver enables cruise control, takes his hands off the wheel, and it seamlessly turns left and right and left again, all at around 25 mph – which it automatically slowed for after recognized the speed sign –without any input from the guy in the driver's seat.

Then we get up to a lane change area. He simply applies the left signal and the sensors – which already know there are no vehicles around, because it's constantly monitoring the surroundings – slowly slips into the left lane without any input from the driver. That's the "wow" feature for tonight, and Musk sees it getting better.

Illustration for article titled Tesla Model S Auto Pilot Does Lane Changes For You

"When [Auto Pilot rolls out] it will have the most sophisticated driver assistant functions of any vehicle on the road," says Musk. And the ability to continually tweak the programming through over-the-air updates means it will improve over time. This puts Tesla up to par with the Germans and the Japanese, but takes it a step further with the lane change feature. And at this point, would you expect anything less from Tesla?

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