Monday, November 28, 2022

Earl & Nancy Drive AUTONOMOUSLY

When Nancy and I got into our Tesla S Plaid last Saturday morning to drive to our weekly radio show, Earl on Cars, there was a message on the large display screen of our Tesla Plaid advising us that Tesla had activated their Full Self Driving Beta on our vehicle. We’d signed up for this beta program when we first bought our Tesla and they monitored the safety of our driving, but we never attained the perfect score of “100” that Tesla required…we were stuck at 99. Fortunately, they relaxed their requirements with their newer software, and we’re now approved for Tesla Full Self Driving (FSD)!
We didn’t turn on the Full Self Driving right away. We decided to carefully study the directions. We read the directions and watched the videos from Tesla and other sources. Saturday, in the later afternoon, we decided to “take the plunge” and let our Tesla Plaid (aka “Miss Nancy”, Tesla asks you to name your car) drive us to our car dealership, Earl Stewart Toyota, in North Palm Beach from our home in Jupiter, about 10 miles away. From our dealership, “Miss Nancy” drove us to the Publix supermarket in Tequesta, FL, about 12 miles. After that, Miss Nancy took us back to our home in Jupiter, FL. The traffic was heavy on Saturday afternoon, which you’d expect in South Florida on Thanksgiving weekend. Yesterday, Sunday, Miss Nancy took us to the Promenade Shopping Center in Palm Beach Gardens from our home, about 15 miles. From there she drove us home. Later, she drove us to a restaurant named Spotos in Palm Beach Cardens, FL, about 15 miles and back home again. The traffic on Sunday was also quite heavy.
So, how did we feel about sitting in a car and having the car drive us around for a hundred miles over two days in heavy traffic? Our emotions ranged all over the human spectrum of feelings…exhilaration, fear, anger, disappointment, satisfaction, confusion, frustration, and happiness. Nancy and I took turns sitting in the "driver’s" seat. The duty of this person is to tell “Miss Nancy” where to drive us, “Take us to Publix in Tequesta, Florida”, click on the blue FSD (Full Self Driving) icon, and then remain alert with both hands on the steering wheel (shaped like a yoke on the Tesla Plaid) and, most importantly, be prepared to immediately disengage the self-driving mode in case of a failure. This is done by stepping on the brake or turning the steering wheel.
We learned quickly that Tesla’s Full Self Driving hasn’t been perfected. Here are a few of the glitches that we’ve observed in 2 days of autonomous driving: (1) The navigation system got the address for Earl Stewart Toyota wrong and tried to drive us to Lake Worth, FL instead of North Palm Beach. I had to disengage FSD and program in the correct address. (2) FSD got “Miss Nancy” stuck in the far-right lane at a stoplight intersection with her left turn signal on. The traffic was heavy and there was no way she would ever have safely crossed over 3 lanes to make a left turn. Again, I had to disengage the FSD and manually drive to a safe location for “Miss Nancy” to take over again. (3) We all know we’re supposed to “slow down” when there’s a yellow caution light, like those out-front of fire stations. We also know that most people ignore these. “Miss Nancy” doesn’t ignore caution lights and slows down considerably. This caused us to be almost hit from behind by a speeder, following too close, who doesn’t slow down for caution lights. (4) When “Miss Nancy” must pull out into several lanes of busy traffic from a side street, she makes many, rapid partial turns in the steering wheel/yoke before and during the drive out of the side street. I’m guessing that this is necessary to fine tune the exact millisecond to accelerate out into heavy traffic. The problem with this for the passenger in the driver’s seat is that she or he must keep both hands on the steering wheel/yoke (If Tesla detects you don’t; your self-driving privileges are revoked). When the FSD turns the wheel/yoke quickly, it also turns if forcibly…such that it’s hard to hold onto; also, if you hold on so tight as to impede the turn, FSD disengages, and the car just sits there, maybe in the middle of the street! (5) Heavy road construction with lots of cones and blocked or rerouted lanes confuse “Miss Nancy”. There’s an area like this near our home and it confuses me and Nancy and also “Miss Nancy”. Yesterday, “Miss Nancy” put us in the wrong lane in this construction area and, again, I had to disengage FSD.
You might be thinking, “how in the world can you and Nancy even “think about” using the FSD autonomous feature again!’ As we learn these things about “Miss Nancy” we’re able to correct and accommodate her and not be shocked, stunned, and surprised. Also, I believe that “Miss Nancy” is learning more about us through AI, artificial intelligence. We’ve noticed that since the first caution light incident when we were almost rear-ended, she hasn’t braked as much at caution lights. Computers with AI, learn from their mistakes (I wish we could say that about all humans).
In summary, Nancy and I are very happy with our full self-driving Tesla Plaid. We’re lucky and privileged to experience this amazing technology. I’ll be 82 next month and Nancy will be 80. We can now feel fairly confident that we’ll be driving in our own personal cars for as long as we live. Fifteen years ago, I wrote a blog entitled, Don’t Take Away Grandma and Grandpa’s Freedom Machine. This is the link to that column This article discusses how important a person’s automobile is to her or him, especially in states like Florida where mass transportation is quite limited. As an automobile dealer for 54 years, I’ve talked with lots of families faced with taking away their mother or father’s car because they felt they were too old to drive. It always brought tears to my eyes. Now thanks to the amazing worldwide knowledge explosion and tech revolution, no one will lose their personal transportation due to age or incapacity.

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