The Ultimate Guide to Tesla Autopilot

August 31st, 2020 by

It might not be robotaxi-ready yet, but Autopilot is already one of the leading semi-autonomous driving software suites available today. It has tons of features, is constantly being improved upon, and is the single biggest option most consider when considering a Tesla.

It’s also one of the most confusing features from Tesla. With four different hardware versions and four different software packages released over the years, it’s tough to keep track of what was available when, and what each system can do. To break it down, it’s easiest to start with Autopilot Hardware. It’s easier to understand the software once you know about the hardware that makes it all work.

Autopilot Hardware

From the first day Tesla started building cars with Autopilot Hardware, it has been included on every single one of their vehicles.

Each Autopilot Hardware system is a combination of multiple components that, when working together, allow the car to see the world and respond to it. The three major components are cameras, sensors, and computers.

Generally, each new version of Autopilot Hardware features more numerous and/or more powerful components – allowing the car to see the world in more detail and respond to it faster and more reliably.

Although there are some visual cues available to recognize some different versions of Autopilot Hardware, the fastest and easiest way is to open the “More Vehicle Information” screen from the Tesla’s software menu.

No Autopilot Hardware | all cars built before September 2014:

All Teslas built before September 2014 (Model S and Roadster) do not have any Autopilot Hardware and cannot be upgraded. Cars without autopilot are quickly identified by their missing camera housing at the top of the windshield.

Autopilot Hardware 1 Camera

Autopilot Hardware 1.0 forward camera housing. If there is no such housing, there is no Autopilot Hardware.

Autopilot Hardware 1.0 | built September 2014 – October 2016: 

Autopilot Hardware 1.0 is the first version Tesla released. It was included on all Model S and Model X vehicles built during the above time period.

It uses just one front facing camera. Even though each car came with a backup camera it was not connected to the Autopilot system at this time. The camera is supported by a radar system, used to track the leading vehicle’s speed for adaptive cruise control, and 12 sonar sensors are used to detect nearby obstacles and traffic for parking and lane changes.

One Mobileye processor is used to crunch the data from the rest of the hardware and tell the car what to do.

Cameras: One (1) Front-Facing Camera

Sensors: Bosch radar with 525 ft range & 12 sonar sensors with 16 ft range

Computers: Mobileye EyeQ3 Processor

Autopilot Hardware 1 v. Hardware 2

Fender badges were just one of the new camera locations for Autopilot Hardware 2.0

Autopilot Hardware 2.0 | built October 2016 – August 2017

Autopilot Hardware 2.0 represented the first and biggest upgrade in Autopilot Hardware’s configuration.

It went from just one camera to a total of eight still used today. This eight-camera configuration is the new setup Tesla has used since this release. It covers all angles of the car, giving the vehicle much more data about the world around it.

A host of new computer components drastically increased the car’s computing power too, which is important when there is suddenly more than eight times as much data to process.

Cameras: Eight total – three front facing, two side cameras in the b-pillars, two side-rear facing cameras under the front fender badges, and one rear-facing camera.

Sensors: Bosch radar with 525 ft range & 12 Sonar Sensors with upgraded 26 ft range.

Computers: One Nvidia Parker System-on-Chip (SoC), 1 Nvidia Pascal GPU, 1 Infineon TriCore CPU.

Autopilot Hardware 2.5 | August 2017 – March 2019

Autopilot Hardware 2.5 is a more incremental upgrade, hence the “.5” moniker. The radar supplier was changed from Bosch to Continental, giving the radar a small bump. The computer chips remained the same, though one Nvidia Parker SoC was added for redundancy.

Cameras: Eight cameras covering all angles.

Sensors: Continental Radar with 558 ft range & 12 Sonar Sensors with 26 ft range.

Computers: 2 Nvidia Parker SoC, 1 Nvidia Pascal GPU, 1 Infineon TriCore CPU.

Autopilot Hardware 3.0 | built March 2019 – Present

Autopilot Hardware 3.0 is the latest upgrade to Tesla’s hardware, and Elon says it has all the components necessary for all Full Self Driving features.

The car’s sensor setup remains the same. The only change is the swapping of third-party computer systems for two bespoke units Tesla designed in-house. Because this is just a computer switch, Autopilot Hardware 2.0 and 2.5 can both be upgraded to 3.0. Drivers of older Tesla vehicles are eligible for this upgrade if they purchase the Full Self Driving package.

Cameras: Eight cameras covering all angles.

Sensors: Continental Radar with 558 ft range & 12 Sonar Sensors with 26 ft range.

Computers: Two bespoke Tesla-designed units.

Autopilot Software

Autopilot is really just a catch-all term that refers to Tesla’s entire suite of semi-autonomous driving features. Each feature has a specific task, such as maintaining speed, steering, or parking. Over the years, Tesla has sold four different Autopilot software packages that bundle these features together in different ways.

Tesla Autopilot Features

Traffic Aware Cruise Control uses the Tesla’s radar to lock-on to the vehicle in front of it and match its speed. Unlike many other automaker’s adaptive cruise control systems, Traffic Aware Cruise Control will bring Tesla all the way down to a stop and back up to speed again with no driver input required.

Autosteer uses the Tesla’s cameras to track lane lines. The car will then provide steering input necessary to keep a Tesla centered in its lane. While many other automakers use reactive “lane keep assist” systems that will bounce the car off of lane lines, Tesla actually steers proactively to handle relatively significant curves in the road. It cannot currently handle turns at intersections, and Tesla requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel for the ability to make fast corrections as needed.

Auto Lane Change will automatically make a lane change. Initiate the lane change with the turn signal, indicating the desired lane. Autopilot will verify (or wait) for that lane to clear, then move the car over on its own.

Autopark will park the Tesla autonomously – hands off, for real. Drive at low speeds along parking spots, waiting for the screen to indicate that it sees a parking spot. The spot needs to be near other vehicles, as the car uses its sonar sensors to look for the space – it can’t see the painted lines. When it does find a suitable spot, put the car in reverse and click “Begin” on the Autopark prompt on the center screen. Autopark can park in both parallel and perpendicular parking spots.

Summon allows the car to move without anyone inside of it, and it comes in two flavors: Basic Summon and Smart Summon. Basic Summon only allows straight forward and backwards movement while the driver pushes a button on the Tesla App. Smart Summon will enable the Tesla to autonomously navigate its way to the driver in a parking lot.

Navigate on Autopilot (beta) allows semi-autonomous driving and navigation from on-ramp to off-ramp on the highway. If the driver enters a destination that requires highway driving into the navigation system, an option for Navigate on Autopilot will appear. Navigate on Autopilot will make lane changes to overtake traffic, move out of the passing lane, make exits, and will travel through highway interchanges with no driver input required.

Stop Sign and Traffic Light Control (beta) is the first feature meant for use on city streets. Tesla vehicles with this feature can see and respond to stop signs and traffic signals. As of right now, the car will slow down for all signals (even if they’re green). The driver must give a confirmation tap on the drive selector stalk or accelerator pedal for the car to continue through an intersection.

Autosteer on City Streets (unreleased) is still unknown in scope. Based on the name, a reasonable expectation might be that it will be able to handle sharper turns typical of city streets and turn through intersections after the driver indicates the turn with the stalk.

Tesla Autopilot Software Packages

The above features have been bundled in four different ways over the years, as laid out in the chart below.

Tesla Autopilot Features

Full Self Driving is listed twice because it has been sold during two distinct time periods. Any car with Full Self Driving will have the same features, but the price paid for FSD may have differed depending on the time it was purchased.

Upgrade paths are available for all vehicles with any version of Autopilot Hardware. Tesla vehicles with Autopilot Hardware 1.0 but without Autopilot 1 software can still upgrade today, even though Autopilot 1 hasn’t been available new since 2016.

Vehicles with Autopilot Hardware 2.0 or greater can upgrade to basic Autopilot for $3,000, and cars with Basic Autopilot or Enhanced Autopilot can upgrade to Full Self Driving for $8,000 and $5,000 respectively.

Tesla has slowly been raising the price of Full Self Driving and may continue to do so in the future. The company has also said plans are in place to offer subscription options by the end of the year.

Tesla Autopilot Safety Features

Beyond semi-autonomous driving, Autopilot powers a number of active safety features. Active safety features like lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking have become high-demand additions on new vehicles sold today, especially since the features are factored into safety ratings from the IIHS.

Autopilot Active Safety Features are included on all Tesla vehicles built since September 2014. Every vehicle with any version of Autopilot hardware has these features, even if they don’t have any other Autopilot software package.

Automatic Emergency Braking will engage the car’s brakes when it believes it is about to collide with something – be it another car or an obstacle. The goal is to avoid the collision entirely, but even if the collision can’t be avoided entirely the braking still helps reduce the severity of the impact. Rear ending another vehicle is much less dangerous at 20 miles per hour than at 60.

Forward Collision Warning also looks for obstacles in front of the vehicle, but will alert the driver in hopes they react, so the car doesn’t have to. Forward Collision Warning can be set to warn the driver early, medium, or late, depending on how conservative the driver wants it to be. It can also be turned off entirely.

Obstacle Aware Acceleration will slow down the Tesla vehicle’s acceleration if it’s obstructed, to keep the vehicle from ramming into anything. Its inclusion may be Tesla’s attempt to address the “Sudden Unintended Acceleration” incidents that pop up every now and then.

Side Collision Warning warns the driver of obstacles or vehicles that are approaching the Tesla from the side.

Blind Spot Monitoring will alert the driver to obstacles or vehicles in their blindspot when they attempt to make a lane change.

Lane Departure Avoidance, tracks lane lines and will help to keep the Tesla in its lane. If the vehicle starts to drift, Lane Departure Avoidance will nudge the car back into the lane. This is not a substitute to Autosteer, it’s just meant to keep the driver from leaving their lane. It can also be configured as a warning chime or turned off if a driver doesn’t like the nudge.

Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance is a more extreme version of Lane Departure Avoidance. If the car is leaving its lane and there’s a risk of a collision (crowded lane or into oncoming traffic) the Tesla will rapidly change directions to try and avoid the collision.

Many drivers dislike the handhold-y nature of these features, and most automakers that offer them allow drivers to turn them off. Tesla is no exception; every feature can be toggled on and off.

What’s next for Tesla Autopilot?

As mentioned previously, Elon said that Autopilot Hardware 3.0 will be sufficient for Full Self Driving. Since Tesla is currently upgrading customers who have both Full Self Driving and Hardware 2.0 or 2.5 to Hardware 3.0, it’s hard to imagine they would want to upgrade those customers again in the event new hardware is needed.

Tesla is constantly working on smaller, incremental updates to Autopilot. They are constantly collecting data from the fleet of Tesla vehicles on the road and using it to improve the behavior of the software. A recent example is how Autopilot was limited to the speed limit on city streets when Stop Sign and Traffic Light Control first released but is now allowed to drive at 5 miles per hour over the limit.

Autosteer on City Streets should be the next (and maybe last) big feature release for Autopilot, though there is no firm date for it just yet.