Tesla Navigate On Autopilot requires improvement to be better than drivers.

Consumer Reports tested the latest Tesla Navigate On Autopilot feature near its Auto Test Center in Colchester, Connecticut and is impressed with its findings.

However, the ability to do route-based lane changes or speed-based lane changes on the highway (as well as take an exit off the highway) was called more like a glimpse of future self-driving cars than a ready product (it's a beta release).

The Navigate On Autopilot brings not only a promise but also a new set of problems and some concerning limitations.

Consumer Reports noted:

  • After speed-based lane change, the car stays in the left lane (what we saw from the beginning in many videos posted by users), which without driver intervention will turn Teslas into "the world’s worst left-lane hog". It should be an easy fix for the next update we believe.
  • The next problem is that sometimes the car would like to change lanes despite there being a faster-moving vehicle coming up alongside, that would be cut off. According to the article, Tesla intends to release an update that will use three rear-facing cameras to detect fast-approaching objects “better than the average driver.” But, as we understand, better than average is not necessarily as good as a good driver (time will tell).
  • Test drivers noticed also that the Navigate On Autopilot works best in situations with minimal traffic and struggles in heavy traffic.

    "As the system currently stands, CR’s testers found it lagged behind their own skills while driving in heavy traffic. "Overall it works best in easy situations with minimal traffic,” Fisher says. “But as the traffic builds, it clearly displays the limitations of today's technology."

  • The last concern is highway exits when you drive behind a slower vehicle. CR experienced a situation when Navigate On Autopilot decided to overtake the truck, taking the left lane not far ahead of the exit, and because there was heavy traffic, later the Tesla needed to slow down. Normally, the driver would stay behind the truck and wait a while to take the exit smoothly and safely. Foresight is missing.

    "The system also had issues navigating interchanges: Not far before exiting a congested highway, the system recommended that the driver change lanes to pass a slower-moving truck instead of waiting to exit as most drivers would choose. But traffic was too heavy for the Tesla to complete the pass. Autopilot slowed the car considerably so it could drop back behind the truck and into the exit lane—which slowed traffic in the process."

    "Tesla told us that its feature relies on many factors, including “the speed of the cars in your lane, the speed of the cars in the adjacent lane, the density of the cars in the adjacent lane, and the amount of time the car has to complete the lane change before the next route transition.” In certain “unlikely” situations, it might even slow the car to a complete stop, the Tesla spokesperson said."

    “It was able to execute the exit, but it wasn’t pretty,” Fisher says. “It didn’t have the foresight to say, ‘With all this traffic, passing so close to the exit is not a smart thing."

In other words, technically we are probably still at least a couple updates before autonomous driving could be possible in the base case scenario - on the highway and in good weather.

Source: Consumer Reports