Tesla is now taking pre-orders for its Model 3 electric car, and CEO Elon Musk says the hardware and safety features of its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system will come standard in the $35,000 vehicle.
That means all Model 3s will be able to steer themselves and avoid obstacles. However, if Model 3 owners want access to Autopilot “convenience features” such as cruise control, automatic lane changing and self-parking, that will cost extra. Tesla hasn’t confirmed how much extra, but those convenience features can be unlocked in Tesla’s Model S and Model X electric cars for $3,000.
Customers need to make a $1,000 deposit to pre-order the Tesla Model 3, and Musk says it won’t be available until, optimistically, the end of 2017. Tesla is promising 215 miles on a single charge for the Model 3, adding that this is the vehicle that will bring electric cars to the masses. In the first 24 hours of sales, the affordable Tesla Model 3 racked up 115,000 orders.
The base level Model 3 manages 0-60 in less than six seconds, although other versions will apparently go “much faster.”
We’ve seen the good and bad of Autopilot thanks to some handy (or dangerous) video work by some Tesla Model S owners. Let’s start with the good. An Uber driver in Seattle recorded the moment his Tesla Model S, while in Autopilot mode, slowed down to avoid a head-on collision. The driver, Jon Hall, was on State Route 99 just north of downtown Seattle when an oncoming car attempted to make a left turn directly in front of him.
“Add your own honking and swearing,” Hall wrote on YouTube. “I did not touch the brake. Car did all the work. Sadly no audio, because I had an Uber passenger and Washington [state] has strict privacy laws about recording conversations.”
Hall said Autopilot was set a couple MPH below the speed limit of 45. “It’s easy to say that in hindsight, I should be going slower, but traffic tends not to pull out from you in that direction,” Hall wrote. “I was actually watching cars to the right of me, which is the entire reason the car reacted and I didn’t. All the fault is in the other driver, and the video clearly shows this.”
Now for the bad, and there’s been plenty of it, even though some owners haven’t adhered to Tesla Autopilot’s rules of the road. Most of this next clip is uneventful, but a near-miss occurs towards the very end. The driver keeps Autopilot engaged while driving on an exit ramp, and it appears the Model S continues to drive straight instead of following the ramp to the left. Maybe the turn was too sharp for Autopilot or the on-board cameras were confused because the white lines on the left side of the street come to an end, but the driver was heady enough to quickly grab the wheel to avoid an accident.
In this final clip, the incident starts at 2:42. The road bends to the right, but the Tesla Autopilot appears to be driving the car straight. The driver quickly takes control after a little scare.
Missy Cummings, head of Duke University’s robotics lab, recently testified to congress that self-driving cars aren’t ready for prime-time. Cummings joined The Robotics Trends Show to explain her position, including her thoughts on the irresponsibility of how Tesla has rolled out Autopilot. Listen to the podcast here and make sure to subscribe to The Robotics Trends Show in iTunes to never miss an episode.