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A blog about the cars I drive

Tesla adds autonomous drive to Model S

tesla autonomous-drive monitor

We had a brief conversation on Facebook a while back — either here or on my personal page — about autonomous, or self-driving — cars. I’ve driven some Acuras this year that I’ve been able to drive hands-free for up to 15 seconds at a go, even on twisty country two-lanes.

Let’s just say it takes a moment to learn to trust the system. Especially as your car edges closer to the side of the road in a long, left-hand bend at 50 mph.

New York Times test drive video

Basically, the onboard passenger-side cameras scan the road surface until they find the fog line — the solid white line at edge of the road. Then it’s simply a matter of tracking the line. Having found the line, the system guides the the car in a graceful radius-bound arc. I’m unclear about how it will handle bad weather. During the winter months here in Eastern Washington, the fog line is as often as not a fiction. I figure if I can’t see it the cameras can’t either, though I could be wrong.

After 15 seconds, Acura’s system directs the driver to resume steering. And it’s not kidding; fail to comply and the car will self-drive itself into the ditch.

So, today, Tesla revealed a $2,500 software download that would enable owners of the $75,00 Model S to drive autonomously. Or allow their cars to.

Tellingly, the caveats include a) the system can’t be guaranteed to work in bad weather or b) when lane markers are obscured, damaged or non-existent.

If the system decides it can’t safely drive autonomously, it hands the responsibility back to the driver. Should the driver be napping, or otherwise engaged, the system will shut down the car.

Sorry, Hal.

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