Revisiting Tesla’s Autopilot

Tesla Model S - rear quarterI posted a while ago about testing Tesla’s autopilot at 70mph… well, about someone else testing autopilot at 70mph. At that time, I hadn’t tried it myself but now I have and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. That might sound ridiculous, but let me explain what it was like.

I booked a short test drive at the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham and was taken out onto the local roads by a Tesla representative. I’d driven a Model S before but not since they had been upgraded to include 4-wheel-drive or autopilot, so I was curious to see what had changed.

I won’t talk much about the 4-whee-drive except to say it does massively improve the traction and make it possible to carry out some impressive moves even on poor roads. I will also say the Tesla rep demonstrated that… I would have been too keenly aware that I was in a very expensive car to risk doing anything too dramatic!

The autopilot is what’s really captured my imagination, though. It works in two stages – pull one of the steering wheel stalks towards you and the car goes into adaptive cruise control. In this mode, it scans the road ahead to make sure you stay a certain distance from other cars. In our case, we set the car to travel at 70mph but were following a car doing about 40, so we tootled along the road while the Tesla’s sensors kept us a safe distance from the car in front.

Pull the cruise control stalk again and the car goes into autopilot, scanning the road ahead to make sure it stays within the lane (and, of course, still keeping you a safe distance from other cars). This was where it got very, very, strange; the Tesla rep told me to take my hands off the wheel and just let the car do its thing. I can’t describe the feeling of being in the driving seat of a moving car that I’m not actually driving! It faithfully followed some gentle curves in the road, and even navigated its way past a sliproad where, I would have thought, the abundance of lane markings could have confused it.

When the time comes to change lane, the autopilot can handle that too. Indicate over and you are prompted to put your hands on the wheel in case you need to take control in a pinch. I just had a light touch on the wheel, and it turned itself… again, a very odd feeling. Once we were in the other lane, the adaptive cruise control realised there was nothing in front of us anymore and we took off down the road with the autopilot doing its job to keep us safely in the lane again. A couple of seconds later, indicate left, touch the wheel, and it pulls back in again.

Even in that small time test driving the Model S, I was hooked. The whole experience of driving such a powerful and high-tech car is genuinely intoxicating (I only wish I could have had longer with it!) but it’s the autopilot that’s really stuck in my mind. Again, I can’t describe the feeling of sitting in the driving seat of a car and having it, essentially, drive itself. If this is an indication of how motoring technology is going, I’m very much looking forward to the future.

Small Gods and Good Omens

Well, aren’t blog posts just like busses? You don’t see any for ages and then a group of them come along at once.

I need to add something to my previous post about the Terry Pratchett Memorial, and clarify something that I discovered I had picked up wrongly.

Small Gods

Small Gods Graphic Novel CoverFirstly, I accidentally missed out one of the announcements from the memorial evening. There’s going to be a graphic novel of Small Gods!

Small Gods is a great story about the origins of a monumental religion, and what would happen if the god at the centre of it all actually turned up. You can guess it doesn’t exactly go the way you would think! It’s one of the best Discworld stories (yes, I realise that’s a subjective statement) and should make a great graphic novel.

Small Gods will be available from all good bookshops and comic stores, or can be pre-ordered on Amazon. It is due out on the 28th of July.

Good Omens

The thing I want to clarify is the story of how Neil Gaiman came to be screenwriting Good Omens (which, it seems more and more, is definitely going to be a 6-part series).

The way the story was presented at the memorial made it seem very much like Sir Terry had written a letter asking Neil to take on the project, and that letter was presented to Neil after Sir Terry’s death. It seems I misunderstood (from looking at the newspaper coverage of the evening, it looks like I wasn’t the only one) and Sir Terry made his request in person before his death.

Neil clarified this on his own blog, so I’m pretty confident I’ve got the story straight this time!

However it actually happened, the good news is the Good Omens screenplay is happening, being written by one of the original authors, and with the blessing of the other.

I think that’s everything cleared up… but you never know :)