Consumer Reports Slams Tesla's Navigate on Autopilot Update, Calls System 'Far Less Competent' Than a Human Driver
In this writer’s opinion, one of the greatest things to happen to high-speed motoring is the blind spot monitoring system. Try as we might to religiously check our mirrors and peer over our shoulders before each lane change, there’ll always be that time we half-ass it, just as an unseen car creeps up in the shadow of our B- or C-pillar. BSM can be a savior.
However, handing over the entire lane-change process to a combination of software and sensors, at least in Tesla vehicles, is far, far worse than doing it yourself, Consumer Reports claims. After giving the latest update to Tesla’s “Navigate on Autopilot” feature a shakedown cruise on the highways of Connecticut, the consumer advocacy group handed the system a failing grade.
The automaker rolled out an update to its Navigate on Autopilot feature in early April, claiming the system, which debuted in October 2018 and allowed Tesla vehicles to change lanes after a turn-signal prompt from the driver, to dispense with the bag of flesh and bones behind the wheel entirely. Only buyers who paid extra for Enhanced Autopilot or the misleading Full Self-Driving Capability gain the feature.
With the update, drivers can set the system to automatically change lanes when a destination point has been entered into the car’s navigation system. It can also be set to turn on automatically whenever a driver inputs a destination, rather than ask for permission each time. Hitting the turn signal stalk will defeat the looming lane change.
While drivers can choose to be notified of an impending lane change via audio, visual signals, or a wheel shaker, this would, in the minds of many tech-hungry drivers, defeat the purpose of having such a system. If you’re already checking your blind spots to ensure the computer isn’t making a mistake, why not just signal and move the wheel while you’re at it?
Out on the highway, Consumer Reports’ Model 3 test car reportedly behaved like BMW 3 Series, cutting off cars and passing on the right.
“As a result, the driver often had to prevent the system from making poor decisions,” CR stated. Once again, if you have to babysit your advanced driver-assist feature, what good is it to the driver?
“The system’s role should be to help the driver, but the way this technology is deployed, it’s the other way around,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing. “It’s incredibly nearsighted. It doesn’t appear to react to brake lights or turn signals, it can’t anticipate what other drivers will do, and as a result, you constantly have to be one step ahead of it.”
The update made the test car no less erratic than when it was tested with the original Navigate in November, CR said. Even then, “it lagged behind a human driver’s abilities in more complex driving scenarios despite Tesla’s claim that it would make driving ‘more relaxing, enjoyable and fun.'”
Recall, too, that Tesla claims it will have fully self-driving cars by the end of the year.
In rolling out the April update, the automaker said drivers have already traveled “more than 66 million miles using the feature, and more than 9 million suggested lane changes have been successfully executed with the feature in use.” It isn’t known in how many instances a vehicle approaching from the rear had to brake hard to avoid hitting the slower Tesla that just appeared in its lane.
Consumer Reports’ roast of the company’s latest tech update will surely lead to another round of the on-again, off-again Tesla-CR boxing match.
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If Elon announced it you can count on the fact that: 1) it will take at least twice as long to reach the market as he says, 2) it will work half as well (or less) than he announces, 3) it will be 20 to 50% more expensive than he predicts, and 4) it will lose money.