Driving lesson

We took a “self-driving” Tesla for a spin in Boston. Here’s how it happened.

When we met in downtown Boston and I climbed into his jet black Tesla SUV with white leather seats, I learned a few things. “Fully Self-Driving” is a beta testing feature that Tesla drivers of some new models can pay up to $12,000 to unlock. It comes in three modes: cool, medium, and assertive. The feature rolled out in mid-January and is different from Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which requires more effort and attention from the driver. (Just over 53,000 cars in America come with the full self-driving feature, according to reports.)

As a first step, we decided to try the “assertive” mode of the car. This allows the vehicle to perform rolling stops, a feature that is currently being recalled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Soon things started to go wrong. At an intersection in South Boston, where several lanes converge, we inch by inch and then come to a stop in the middle of the street, drawing horns from nearby cars. Shortly after, we inexplicably veered into a snowdrift, forcing Ogan to take control of the steering wheel to prevent us from denting his car.

Shortly after, we took the car out of aggressive mode and tried the “medium” setting. Yet, problems remained. At one point a van was parked in the middle of the street, and leaving the Tesla to its own devices, it just sat there thinking what to do. In the end, Ogan had to work around it.

“It’s amazing that people say ‘it’s safer than a human driver,'” Ogan said. “That’s not true.”

So, does the company need better technology for its self-driving mode? And where do we go from here?

Currently, Tesla’s self-driving feature relies on cameras to analyze the world around it. These video streams are sent to the car’s on-board neuron network, which analyzes it for roads, cars, obstacles and people. But, according to experts, this technology can be inaccurate in detecting certain objects. That’s why many self-driving cars, such as those from Waymo, use LIDAR technology, which emits laser beams to create 3D maps and fill in gaps in computer vision.

Some electric car enthusiasts, like Ogan, think Tesla would benefit from putting LIDAR in his cars. Elon Musk previously called the technology a “crutch”.

Either way, Ogan, a hedge fund executive who owns Tesla stock, believes that with self-driving technology in its current state, it’s unclear if the feature will be available to the general public. He said Tesla should follow the lead of other companies, such as Boston-based Motional, and rigorously test the feature with company experts driving, in a cordoned-off section of a city, with permits and permits. security protocols.

“You know why?” he said. “Because human lives are in danger here.”

Pranshu Verma can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @pranshuverma_.