Our Tesla Model S never ceases to amaze us. With the latest software update we got a brand new feature – Navigate on Autopilot – which can automatically drive and navigate for us.
Our Model S was already updated with Enhanced Autopilot which includes Autopilot which means the car basically drives itself (you have to keep your hand on the wheel) on freeways and clearly marked roads plus Autopark and Summon which allows you to move the car with your phone.
And recently we also got the upgrade to Smart Summon which means we can get our Tesla to drive to us when it’s parked a short distance away.
Now with Navigate on Autopilot we can simply enter our destination and, when Autopilot is activated, the Tesla will not only take over the driving but also take over the navigation as well.
This includes changing lanes to get around slower vehicles and also getting you in the right lane to merge onto your next freeway or your exit.
Our first trip with Navigate on Autopilot was to Foxtel in Macquarie Park for our weekly Sky News tech segment on Saturdays from Pagewood in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
Normally when Autopilot is engaged the car appears on your display with blue lines on either side of the lane.
But when Navigate on Autopilot kicks in a new chime sounds and the blue line is now in the middle of the lane.
From here the car takes over the driving and navigation decisions.
Of course, we still have to have our hands on the wheel for safety and to take over if we have to.
In fact, the car regularly requires drivers to exert a little force on the wheel to prove they are still paying attention to the road.
If they don’t respond, the Tesla will slow down and eventually stop.
In Navigate on Autopilot mode the car does things like changing lanes to get around slower vehicles and to get you in the right lane to change freeways.
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In our case we started on the Eastern Distributor travelling north and the Tesla put us into the right lane to transition through the toll area into the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and then also got us over to the right lanes to hit the Warringah Freeway in preparation for entry into the Lane Cove Tunnel.
And it even indicated automatically and handed back control of the car after the Tesla made a left turn and steered us into Epping Rd exit.
The car has eight cameras and numerous sensors so it has a 360-degree visualisation of the traffic around you and the markings on the road.
These cameras and sensors are far more advanced than my own two eyes and ears.
Drivers can also choose to manually authorise suggested lane changes by using the indicator to confirm.
In the US, where we used this feature on a Tesla Model 3 in Los Angeles, we drove from Marina Del Ray to Anaheim – a 90 minute drive – with the Tesla doing all the driving and changing lanes and freeways.
It’s a perfect feature for LA – all we had to do was have a hand on the wheel and enjoy the ride.
But one thing we noticed in Australia was Navigate on Autopilot wouldn’t work in tunnels.
When we approached the tunnel, the car warned us Navigate on Autopilot would revert back to the regular Autopilot where the car still did the driving and kept us in our lane and at the right speed and the right distance from other cars.
In this regular Autopilot mode we are still able to change lanes – we just had to decide the best time to do this for ourselves and it was a just a matter of indicating left or right to get us over to the next lane.
Once we got out of the tunnel, Navigate on Autopilot would instantly resume.
We’re assuming Navigate on Autopilot won’t work in tunnels because it can’t access GPS.
And we also used Navigate on Autopilot on the way home and it worked just as well including automatically indicating and automatically steering us into the Wentworth Ave exit off the Eastern Distributor.
This is another step towards autonomous driving but Tesla insists this feature doesn’t mean the car is driving itself.
Drivers still need to be alert and ready take control if needed.
But it is still nothing short of remarkable.
And it confirms what Tesla said to me the day I bought the car.
The guy who delivered the car said today would be the worst my car will be.
He clarified this by saying that, unlike every other car, my Tesla will improve over time and gain new features through software updates.
He was right then and he is right now.