Autopilot Test

My Model S was in for service again to fix the long term intermittent problem of my bluetooth failing.  I requested a loaner with autopilot. This service visit I received a P85D with autopilot and drove it for over 100 miles in a variety of conditions.

Autopilot currently consists of four separate features:  automatic steering (auto steer) on freeways and highways, automatic lane changing, traffic aware cruise control, and automatic parallel parking.  The auto steer and auto lane changing are the most amusing and entertaining.  I found auto steer to be a bit buggy and not particularly useful.  Traffic aware cruise control is probably the most useful feature of the bunch and could be really great for someone with a nasty commute.  Auto parking worked well but only under specific conditions.  I’ll talk about each of these four features in some detail.

Auto steer

To turn on auto steer, you pull the cruise control stick towards you twice in a row on an appropriate highway.  Auto steer follows the lane markings on a highway and attempts to keep the car in the center of the lane.  Because it follows the lane markings, it really only works well on freeways or highways with uninterrupted center lines.

I tried auto steer in a variety of conditions.  On the freeway it worked quite nicely in the center and middle lanes.  In the far right lane, auto steer’s performance was weaker because many times the far right lane markings were weaker.  A couple of times it jerked the car over to the right on the freeway.  The software seems to handle an exiting lane fine and stayed in the far right lane.

In California, we are finally experiencing a lot of rain as the El Niño weather pattern has started.  Several times during moderate rain on the freeway the auto steer turned off.

IMG_3332

Auto Steer Turned Itself Off in These Rainy Conditions

I did a fair amount of driving also on “highways” – two lane roads through the mountains and along the coast.  Where the road was gentle and consistent, auto steer did fine.  For other highway driving, auto steer was a challenge.  A couple of times the pavement line on the right hand side disappeared, and it jerked to the right.  When a left turn lane appeared, the car got confused.  One very long reasonable U shaped curve, the software got quite confused and drove the left tires at one point over the center marker.

After a days worth of driving I got pretty comfortable with auto steer and allowed the wheel to move my hands around, which at first felt a little strange.  I think I would only use auto steer on real freeway driving where there are consistent lane markers.  In some ways I think auto steer is a technology looking for a problem.  When I am driving on a freeway, I do not mentally steer, and I am already driving on “auto pilot”.  Having the car auto steer on, I found took more attention than normal.  I found this feature to be quite entertaining but not particularly useful in this simple form.

Auto Lane Change

I experimented with auto lane change a number of times and it worked flawlessly.  It is super easy to use, just turn on your turn signal indicator and it will change lanes for you.  I never did try it in conditions where there was a car in another lane as that felt dangerous.  Again I’m not sure I need this feature.

Traffic Aware Cruise Control

On the other hand, I really liked traffic aware cruise control.  Since the car’s sensors’ detect a car ahead of you, it calculates the correct speed to maintain a safe distance from the other car.  I don’t use cruise control a lot because of this exact problem.  When I have conventional cruise control on and another car appears in front of me, its often too much of a hassle to adjust the speed.  But this traffic aware cruise control solves this problem beautifully.  I can see how useful this would be if you are unfortunately stuck in commute traffic.

Fortunately, I do not commute, and even when I did work my longest commute was 15 minutes.  When I am stuck in stop and go traffic, I really do not enjoy driving, so I would like this feature.  My only minor complaint is that I would like to adjust the distance a bit.  I like to keep larger distances than normal from other drivers.  Perhaps that is wasting space on the road, but I found with traffic aware cruise control, I felt a bit like I was tailgating.

Auto Park

I confess I am not a good parallel parker and avoid it.  When I do parallel park, I typically find spots at the beginning or end of a line as they are so much easier to get in and out of.  Now that my mirrors change positions in reverse, I can safely avoid any curb rash on my wheels.

Auto Parallel Parking is a feature I do like but in the first release it is quite limited.  You must be on a street with sidewalks and be parking in between two parked cars.  I found several places I wanted to try this feature, but in my area 75% of the parking opportunities did not match those conditions.  When I did find an appropriate place, the car parked itself very nicely.  It did allow me to parallel park in front of a fire hydrant though.

IMG_3348

Beautiful Parallel Parking Job With the Right Conditions

P85D

I enjoyed driving the P85D.  This time I could feel that the handling was significantly improved over my S85.  Because the roads were so wet, the car did slip when I floored it in ludicrous mode.  But I did enjoy the increased acceleration.  I do not know if I would spent the significant extra dollars though to buy the increased acceleration.  Where I live there are just so few times when I could enjoy it.

Summary

Autopilot costs $2,500 if purchased with the car.  The parking sensors themselves are now standard equipment with the car.  I really like traffic aware cruise control and would likely buy this package primary for that feature.  But I’m not compelled to upgrade my Model S for the auto pilot package.

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Release 7.0 for Classic Teslas

Classic Teslas like mine do not have the hardware that enables the autopilot features.  The new software release that all cars received last Friday works for both the Classic Teslas and the ones with the autopilot hardware, which costs $2,500.  This release has a few significant highlights and unfortunately a couple of lowlights for Classic Cars such as mine.

1. The look and feel has changed in several small ways.  Some of the fonts and style has changed a little bit with the current fashionable flat 2-D icons.  When Apple first released their 2-D icons, I missed the older ones, but I largely think this is just a current style trend that will eventually change again.

Much More Useful Display of Driving Stats Since Beginning a Trip and Last Charge

Much More Useful Display of Driving Stats Since Beginning a Trip and Last Charge

2. For long road trips, the information on the dashboard for energy usage is much clearer.  Now instead of looking at a strange screen with Trip A and Trip B monitors, you are looking at the information since the last time you started the car on top, and since your last charge below.  On long road trips when I was running dangerously low on energy, I would always bring up the Trip screen to get this information since last charge.   The Trip A and B information is still available on the 17” screen if people plan their energy use that way.

I like this change because I can monitor how much energy I have used since my last charge very succinctly.  I like the kWh usage number and I can easily mentally compare that to my 85kWh battery and compare my Wh/mi usage to the 300 Wh/mile standard.  Here in the hills of California, I never average as low as 300 Wh/mile.  Only on some very flat freeways can the average be maintained at that low level.

Curb Rash Preventer With Automatic Window Tilt in Reverse

Curb Rash Preventer With Automatic Window Tilt in Reverse

2. Tesla has finally found a solution to my curb rash! Now the rear view mirrors adjust downwards while backing up.  I have only tried using this feature once but now I imagine I can parallel park much nicer even without auto-pilot. Of course, I could have done that manually in the past, but I couldn’t imagine messing with my mirrors every time before and after parallel parking.  I’m really excited about this feature because for some reason I’ve never been a great parallel parker.  In my entire life I just have never lived anywhere where I parked parallel with any frequency.

After visiting so many superchargers, I’m really good at backing up into tight spaces though.

Dash Display on Left and Center

Dash Display on Left and Center

 

3. The center of the dash has grown and changed to accommodate an area for the autopilot in the middle of the speedometer.   For those without autopilot the area is a bit excessive.  The car will have indication lights such as when it is braking as in the picture, but typically this information does not change much and can be a bit annoying.  Owners with red cars have reported they cannot really see the red indicator lights as it blends too much with their car color on the display.

To make space for the larger center display, the battery level was moved to the left and the date, time and temperature removed from the standard dash set up.  You can see the time at the far upper right of the 17” screen, and the date through the calendar app.

To appease those of us who may want to have an easier glance at the time, they added a new clock widget.  The response to the clocks widget is that it is almost universally esthetically displeasing.  And with all of that space, why can’t the date and day of the week also be listed?

Upper Left of 17" Screen Includes Lock / Unlock Button

Upper Left of 17″ Screen Includes Lock / Unlock Button

4.  Tesla added a tiny lock and unlock button on the top row of the 17” screen.

I like this improvement because it took a while to fiddle around the 17” screen to unlock the doors for someone who was trying to get into the car.   They moved the outside temperature reading up here too along with a new button for bringing up the charge screen.

I think the temperature needs to go back to the dash permanently.  I am a bit obsessive about the outside temperature.  I adjust the inside temperature control a lot depending upon the outside temperature and whether or not it is sunny.  This fall has been so warm here in California.  Today is the first day of the year that even feels like fall not summer so I’ve been watching the temperature this year a bit obsessively.

The new charge button brings up the charge screen, which to me is a bit strange.  I am always fiddling a bit to find the unlock charge port button more than anything else on that screen. I’d prefer that this lightning bolt just unlocked the charge port.

Other Details

The release also includes a few other minor changes on the dash board that I will not mention such as a full screen control of the media player.  There are also some efficiency improvements but I have not driven the car much yet to notice any differences.  Newer cars also get a full four wheel tire pressure monitoring sensors that will report on each four tires.  My car’s vintage is unfortunately too old.  I don’t know if there are any bug fixes to the bug challenged trip planner.

All in all, I think 7.0 is an improvement even with a few trivial mistakes on the UI.

Supercharger Abuse Notes

Elon Musk near the end of the Q&A section at the annual shareholder meeting accidentally created a bit of a PR challenge amongst current and future Model S owners.  The comment was as part of a response to a question on the battery swap program available near the Coalinga supercharger.

“So, free long distance forever is what the Superchargers are providing. There are few people who are like, quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging, and we also send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing.”  Elon Musk

Executives have always made confusing statements in front of people but now with video technology and the internet, these statements can cause more problems than before.

This small statement has lead to a ton of speculation on what Elon meant.  Few Model S owners are particularly worried that they will receive a note from Tesla, or that Tesla will begin to charge them for supercharging anytime soon.  The most interesting part of the discussion is what business model will happen down the road for more widespread EV adoption.

But here are a few of the many questions the confusing statement invited:

  1. What is supercharger etiquette?

Supercharging does have some etiquette guidelines.  The biggest error is leaving your car in a stall for a long time after the charging is complete.  Tesla’s web page states:

“How long can I park at a Supercharger?

We ask our customers to use courtesy while charging. Once your Model S has reached the range necessary to get to your next destination, please move your vehicle so other Model S owners can charge.”

With the Tesla app on the phone, you are notified when your car is charged.  In highly underused superchargers, at odd hours, or off-season, there is no rush to move your car.

2.  Exactly who are these supercharger abusers?

Busy Supercharger in San Juan Capistrano

Busy Supercharger in San Juan Capistrano

No one yet has come forward admitted to having received a note from Tesla.  The speculation mill has mentioned taxi drivers using a supercharger near the Amsterdam airport.  The other speculation is around a supercharger in Southern California.  The San Juan Capistrano supercharger is near the coast and has been very busy.

3.  Is supercharging only for long distance travel?

Superchargers were primarily built for long distance travel.

“Superchargers are used for long distance travel, conveniently located along the most popular routes in North America, Europe and Asia. “

4.  What about superchargers in more urban areas?

Yes, there are many superchargers in large urban areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.  Tesla has also stated that they can be used for those without a garage or definitive parking space.

“..we’re putting Superchargers in cities, not just between cities. Amm, this is obviously important in places like, aaa…you know, Beijing, Shanghai, London, San Francisco, aaa…New York, aaa…where at times people may have a challenge with aaa…having a…a…a fixed parking space. I mean…so…so that’s maybe the wiring thing, it’s more like some of those people don’t have a definitive parking space. Amm, they might have street parking or something, you know.”  Elon Musk Q1 2014

There are also no definitive statements from Tesla that folks without garages cannot use superchargers for daily driving.  I myself have met 3 people who only supercharged for this reason.  One in a far flung ex-burb area in California and two in the San Francisco area.  None of these folks, myself or anyone else has heard that superchargers cannot be used for daily driving by any Tesla personnel before this statement by Elon.

5.  Can you save money by only supercharging?

Technically, you will save on your electricity bill.  But driving and sitting at a supercharger gets old fast and likely would pay less than a minimum wage; electricity is generally not that expensive, and much cheaper than an equivalent tank of gasoline.

6.  How much does it cost Tesla in energy for us to use their supercharger?

A reasonable average commercial flat rate for energy in California is $ 0.20 / kWh.  If a Model S is driven 100,000 miles at an average of 300 Wh / mile and only supercharged the cost to Tesla is $6,000.

100,000 miles * 300 Wh / mile * $0.2 / kWh * kWh / 1000 Wh  = $6,000

7.  What about other supercharger costs?

Tesla does not buy land for their superchargers.  They do however bring in the equipment and pay the construction and maintenance costs.

8.   Is Tesla tracking our every move?

Tesla can collect quite a lot of information about our traveling habits.  Their privacy policy does include this statement:

“Charging station information: We collect information regarding the charge rate and charging stations used by you (including outlets) in order to analyze which charging stations are being utilized, how long and efficient battery charges are, and where additional charging stations are needed.”

So yes, Tesla can know if you are charging at a residential location and at a local supercharger.

9.  Is supercharging using sustainable energy?

Rocklin Superchargers With Solar Panels

Rocklin Superchargers With Solar Panels

Elon did announce that superchargers will be charged with solar panels where possible; unfortunately the solar panel additions have been very slow and only a handful of locations have them.  Elon also stated at the 2015 shareholder meeting that all the extra electricity the superchargers use will be bought from renewables.

10.  Does frequent supercharging hurt the battery?

Supercharging in general does not hurt the battery.  But I have heard but cannot verify from multiple sources including within Tesla that very frequent or only supercharging does have a small amount of increased battery degradation.

11.  What about Vehicle To Grid Charging (V2G)?

The idea behind V2G is to use the battery’s charge to add capacity to the grid during peak usage hours.  Theoretically in the future, a Model S owner could go to the supercharger fill up the battery for free and sell the electricity back to their power company.  In a sense, using a Model S with V2G could operate like a Powerwall to play grid arbitrage.  V2G technology is not available yet.

12.  Will supercharging have a cost sometime down the line?

I feel it is quite possible that supercharging will have a cost sometime down the line for the 3rd or 4th generation of vehicles.  With the Model S, supercharging was an option for the 60 kW version and not available for the handful of 40 kW versions that were sold.

13.  Is supercharging sustainable with more cars on the road?

With Model S and the upcoming Model X at a high price point, the typical owner has significant resources and likely will not try to save pennies by abusing superchargers.

The next generation car is targeted to cost $35,000.  This car will be aimed at a different demographic that may consider it worth their time to save $10 for a fill up.  But more importantly many of these owners will likely live in apartments or condominiums without dedicated parking spaces.

Perhaps a different supercharging cost will occur for generation 3.  A lot of different charging models could take affect for a different class of vehicles.  Perhaps other car companies could use the superchargers and would be included in a new pricing model.

14.  Has Tesla changed their message?

There has been some heated discussion if Tesla has changed their message.  The message that superchargers are free forever has now subtly been changed to free for long distance travel.  Exactly what their message is today is not completely clear.

15.  So exactly what is supercharger abuse?

No one exactly knows the answer to this question.  A handful of people do use supercharging regularly even though they have a way to charge at home.  Perhaps Tesla considers these folks “abusers” ?

Fortunately just a handful of Tesla owners feel it is their right to supercharge whenever and wherever they please.  One colorful blogger wants to use a close to home supercharger near his home in order to get back at his electric company by charging at the supercharger tied to the same electric company.  In every group of people, there will always exist a few who will try to maximize their advantages in a given system without much consideration for others.

Summary

The real question goes beyond the Model S, Model X, generation 3 and Tesla:

How do we facilitate wide EV adoption amongst drivers who do not have a dedicated place to park their car?

Perhaps Tesla’s statement should for the supercharger should be something like:

Charging at home is very convenient, inexpensive, and easy.  Superchargers are free forever for road trips.  If you have problems charing regularly at home or work, feel free to charge at a convenient supercharger,  but please be considerate of other drivers.

Move Forward / Back Up

Firmware 6.1 has a number of new features including the long awaited reverse camera guidelines.  Recently a lot of auto-pilot and driverless car features have been announced by Tesla and other companies.  A pure driverless car will be of interest for some segments of the market – perhaps someone with a tedious commute.  But many drivers will still want to actually drive their car and enjoy being on the road.  Technology and automation is often but not always an improvement to our world.

Reverse Camera Guidelines

When I first got the Model S, I really wanted these guidelines but after driving the car for almost two years, I have a strong sense of both the front and back space of the car and really feel no personal need for these guidelines nor the parking sensors.

Backing Up Towards Another Tesla With Reverse Camera Guidelines and a Dirty Screen

Backing Up Towards Another Tesla With Reverse Camera Guidelines and a Dirty Screen

My parallel parking skills are not superb but this weakness is largely due to lack of practice as where I live I simply don’t parallel park frequently.  I have backed into so many supercharger stalls, I now feel very comfortable backing into parking spaces.

I now see both the reverse camera guidelines and parking sensors similar to training wheels on a child’s bike.  They are very helpful for a period of time or in unusual situations but at some point are not generally necessary.

Reverse In Parking Spaces

Recently a number of local municipalities are starting to design reverse in parking spaces.  The San Francisco Bay Area is getting more and more dense as we are experiencing another boom in Silicon Valley.  We have a lot more parking garages, compact parking spaces, bicyclists and pedestrians.  Back in parking spaces are safer because when you pull out of the spot you can see other cars, cyclists and pedestrians.  Also when loading items in your trunk, the trunk is near the sidewalk not oncoming vehicles.

The city of Fremont tested back-in angled parking five years ago.  Unfortunately the experiment failed miserably.  But five years ago there were not very many cars with backup cameras.  Fremont reported on the experiment:

“The typical driver backs up by looking out of their back window. Depending on the visibility, this can work when you are trying to fit between two cars, but it doesn’t work if there are no cars parked to guide you … so they ended up parking across the lines at all angles.”

With many newer cars having backup cameras, I think this will mitigate a lot of the challenges in backing into parking spaces.

Tesla Speed Assist

Tesla along with Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz can with both GPS speed limit data and front-end cameras that read the speed limit signs notify the driver of the current speed limit.  The newer Model S will soon be able to also warn the driver with a chime when they are driving over the limit or up to 10mph over the limit.

I was not particularly excited about this feature when first announced but recently a friend of mine got a speeding ticket for driving 70 in a 35.  She is not a reckless driver but owns a very cushy late model car and was driving on a country road where the speed limit is 55mph.  She passed through a town with a few hundred inhabitants and did not notice that the speed limit changed.  I can see the value of Tesla’s speed limit detector for situations like these.

Conclusion

Some technology improvements have really helped the world.  Others can be useful for only a period of time or have less value.  When choosing options I would consider both the short term and long term use of some of these features and also the monetary cost.

Condo Charging

A Tesla Charging in an Oregon Condominium Comples

A Tesla Charging in an Oregon Condominium Complex

Since I am a homeowner, I have given little thought to charging in either a rental unit or in a condominium complex.  I recently drove to Oregon and visited a friend who lives in a condo that was less than 10 years old.

Turns out one of the building residents recently got a Tesla.  Getting sufficient electricity in a home garage is typically not a challenge, but my friend’s neighbor faced a few challenges.

First the designated parking spot he purchased with the unit did not have any nearby electricity.  The building manager had intended to move in and drive an electric car so that spot uniquely had an empty tube for electricity.  Fortunately the building manager did not move in, he switched parking spots, and they hired an electrician. It was impossible to connect the parking spot’s electricity to his unit’s meter, so a 2nd meter in the building’s utility area was installed.

Another issue the neighbor faced was that the wiring for the garage was not rated for 70 amps and once his outlet was installed, his charge rate was quite adequate for an overnight charge but not at full capacity.  And modifying the overall garage electricity was not a simple or inexpensive task.

Each condominium will have its own challenges to add electric car charging.  Here in California we have a law, Civil Code 1353.9 that

“effectively prohibits or unreasonably restricts the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station in an owner’s designated parking space”.

In this Oregonian’s case all worked out fine and he is happily charging his Tesla in the parking garage.

For other condo owners and renters, the challenges can be steeper.  For an apartment renter, the situation could likely be more temporary and they are less interested in putting the dollars into any potential electric improvements.  For some renters there is often no power source anywhere nearby their designated spot.  In California many rental units have parking spots in detached garages or simple parking spots with a roof but no electricity.

Coil Suspension Review

I got the opportunity to drive yet another loaner as I am still experiencing challenges with my alignment that I will report in another post.  This particular loaner had coil (not air) suspension along with parking sensors.

Driving on a regular route from my home I quickly noticed that the car felt different.  I was not consciously test driving or reviewing the car as I had covered the P85+ and the 60 with the 19” tires and the parking sensors earlier.  The only option I had not reviewed was the coil suspension.

I was noticing that the road just felt bumpy for the lack of any other description and the ride reminded me of my Toyota Highlander, which has a Camry base.  I had not remembered the 60 loaner with the air suspension having this same feeling.  I was driving down a basically straight road so the difference was not the 19” tires. I quickly looked through the menus and realized I was driving with the coil suspension.  The ride was fine but just was not the silky smooth ride of the air suspension that I was so used to.  I do prefer the air suspension over the coil suspension.

Sensitive Parking Sensor

Sensitive Parking Sensor

The parking sensor feature I noticed when I returned home in my driveway.  I had earlier tested this feature in Minneapolis in an unfamiliar area.  Testing this feature at home was quite different as I mentally knew the turn radius in my driveway and garage.  I drive into the garage on auto pilot as I have owned the Model S now for 16 months. I have a large three car garage but for aesthetic reasons it is divided with three individual doors.  The spaces are wide enough but are individually separated. I recently let someone test drive my car into my garage and I did sort of get slightly nervous for a brief moment as he swung the car into the spot.

I was quite surprised though when I pulled the loaner into the garage spot, the parking sensor said STOP.  How could I be that close to the pole?  I pulled back and tried it two more times and got the STOP warning again.  I was not that close to the wall and in the middle of the turn but the sensor is quite sensitive in the front.  In talking to Tesla service, they indicated that the sensors are adjusted on the conservative side in order to avoid hitting objects or children.

Plenty of Clearance for the Turn

Plenty of Clearance for the Turn

East Coast Segment

After leaving the Minneapolis Tesla Service Center, I continued on my journey to the east coast.  The weather had improved from really cold and windy to a “California winter” of around 55 degrees with a few warm days in the low 60s.  The journey was pleasant enough with a few interesting stops along the road.

A More Efficient Means of Transport

A More Efficient Means of Transport

The supercharger route is almost exclusively on toll roads.  I am not much of a fan of interstate freeways and I dislike toll roads even more.  They are very monotonous with little if any scenery or places to explore.  The rest stops remind me of airport lounges.  A lot of busses stop at the Delaware Welcome Center and I realized even using an engine, these people were probably traveling in a more environmentally correct way than me.

EZPass for East Coast Toll Roads

EZPass for East Coast Toll Roads

The toll roads also charge you more money if you pay cash, and in Illinois they constantly remind you of the fact.  By the time I got to Delaware, I bought an EZPass as you can use it in many states.  I paid twenty five dollars for the actual device but I think it was an expense well worth it.  You give them a credit card to continue taking money out of your tolls, but you can close the account later and get any unspent credit refunded to you.

I also noticed that once the weather warmed up to 70 degrees albeit drizzly, my kWh/mile on flat freeways was significantly lower than I average at home on my local roads with ups and downs.  At home I average around 335 kWh/mile and I was easily seeing this drop in similar weather to around 300 kW/h or less with the flat roads at around the same speeds.

I have been range charging on this journey off and on because of some long extended detours.  I noticed that my range charge distance has actually increased to 250 miles from 247 miles.  Although the difference between these numbers is quite small, I have also added over 5,000 miles to the car.

The car made it to the Atlantic ocean and then onto New York city, where it got its first elevator ride in a garage.

Elevator Ride in Parking Garage in NYC

Elevator Ride in Parking Garage in NYC