Is anyone else excited by all of this self driving technology? Any thoughts on where things are headed and what/who (besides Tesla) to pay attention to? Is waiting four years the right move?
Despite owning a Model 3, I'm still a little skeptical about Tesla's ability to deliver on their full self driving promises within the next four years.
I absolutely love the car, and I use Autopilot often. I even took a 5,000+ mile road trip and let Autopilot do most of the driving. But as much as I came to trust Autopilot to control the car under close supervision, there were a lot of little things I noticed on that trip that made me skeptical about ever being able to trust it to operate without supervision.
For instance, at various points on this trip I encountered road construction that resulted in altered lanes or detours, sometimes with lots of cones or even tight concrete barriers on both sides. Autopilot is no good in abnormal situations like this, especially when lane markings are absent or misleading (like when crossing into the opposite lane in a construction zone). This is a problem I think Tesla can solve eventually, but it'll be hard.
Another class of problem I encountered was road debris. While driving through eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming, the highways were littered here and there with shredded tire treads from semi trucks. Sometimes I had to swerve to avoid hitting them. On one occasion, a car ahead of me ran over a tire tread and kicked it in front of me so quickly that I couldn't avoid it, and I ran over it. Luckily it didn't do any damage, but I still had to pull off at the next exit to inspect the car before I was sure it was safe to continue.
In Colorado, I ended up behind a gravel truck that was leaking a steady stream of gravel, peppering my poor car with tiny nicks and scratches. As soon as I realized what was happening I got the hell away from it, but would a self-driving car even have known what was going on if it couldn't hear and feel the plinks and thwacks of tiny flying rocks hitting the body and windshield?
In Texas I spent a week visiting my grandparents at their ranch, which required driving down a long, pothole-ridden county road and a few dirt roads. Lots of those potholes are big enough to cause serious damage, so you need to swerve around them. Autopilot currently can't identify or avoid potholes, and it's not clear if this is something it will ever be able to do.
What would Autopilot have done in these scenarios without a human in the car? Even a perfect computer driver couldn't have avoided hitting that tire tread, and it wouldn't have been able to inspect the car for damage afterward like I could. Would it have continued driving, possibly unsafely, or would it have just stopped somewhere and waited to be rescued?
This all sounds very negative, but I really do love Autopilot as a driver assistance tool, and I've already seen it get better over time. I think self-driving cars with human drivers supervising them will eventually be ubiquitous, even on complex city streets. But I'm skeptical about Tesla's ability to deliver a car that can truly drive itself safely and reliably between any two navigable points without a human inside, at least within the next decade. I'd love to be proven wrong though!
So, should you wait to buy a "self-driving" car?
If you're in the market for a new car now, and if your budget allows it, I think the Tesla Model 3 is one of the best cars you could buy. It continues to improve with free over-the-air updates. I suspect Tesla has a better chance at bringing full self driving to market than any other car manufacturer right now.
I'd bet that in four years either your Model 3 will have full self-driving capability delivered via an OTA update and a minor hardware upgrade, or no consumer-purchasable car will have full self-driving capability yet.
Either way you'll have spent four years driving a Model 3, which isn't a bad way to pass the time while you wait. 😉