Watch Tesla’s AutoPilot learn how to take a ‘turn of death’ in just four attempts

Arrived alive. Nerves shot, but alive. Picture: Peter Farquhar, Business Insider

  • Tesla AutoPilot still has a lot to learn in Australia.
  • Video shows Model S mapping ‘turn of death’ in four moves.
  • Every feature in Silicon Valley mapped within a month.

Tesla’s AutoPilot takes a lot of getting used to.

I know, because I got my first hands-on with it recently on a tour of NSW’s Hunter Valley.

I shared a Model X and a Model S P100d with lifehacker’s Jackson Ryan for three days. Ryan wrote this spot-on piece about how twitchy he was letting Tesla take the wheel.

He was rightly even twitchier when I let Tesla take the wheel, and fair enough, because on one corner, the Model X virtually came to a dead halt.

It was a particularly winding section with a cliff face on the passenger side. As we came around aleft-hand bend, and into a right-hander, the cliff face loomed ahead — and the Model X hit the brakes.

Or regeneratively slowed, or whatever. It doesn’t matter because that was the end of our flirt with AutoPilot. Enough was enough.

Other drivers at the rest point noted the same concerns. The common one was AutoPilot’s habit of trying to maintain the speed limit. It was a wet day, and AutoPilot had a habit of ignoring the black and yellow cornering limit signs.

A bit after the fact, our Tesla handler said yeah, he didn’t recommend letting AutoPilot take the wheel anywhere off the freeway.

It’s still in Beta mode, he said, and needs to gather more information on roads that are more out of the way.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hugely impressive. And what the Tesla handler said was right. You’re about to see why.

Journalist and author Mike Elgan has supercharger he visits in Virginia, but to get there, he has to go around “the curve of death”, a sharp bend merging into a freeway that, as its name suggests, has claimed victims hitting above 35mph.

Here’s Elgan’s first run:

Disastrous, and pretty close to the experience we had in the bends heading up to the Hunter Valley.

But by Elgar’s fourth visit, AutoPilot had it down — even in the rain. And until you’ve given this a go, it’s hard to appreciate the kind of courage it takes to do what Elgar does below:

Last week, Elgar completed a sixth run, which had the benefit of an overnight software update. He said it showed a “huge improvement for this vehicle”.

Tesla told us this was perfectly normal, and one of the main reasons why AutoPilot will stay in Beta mode for some time yet. You even have to tick a box on an agreement on the touchscreen saying you’re aware of all this before you can engage it.

In Silicon Valley, some 2000 Teslas mapped every street, parking space and traffic light in under a month after the feature was switched on.

A recent study by AMP Capital found each autonomous vehicle could generate a daily amount of data equivalent to 2,700 internet users. If autonomous vehicles come to represent 30% of total cars on the road, it would be the equivalent to the internet usage of one trillion people every day.

But in Australia, the land of backroads, it could still take years — decades, even — before AutoPilot is actually 100% safe to use.