Maybe Tesla Vehicles Could Use a Seat-shaker Feature…


Image: Wikimedia

Hell, maybe they could use a driver monitoring camera, too. In other words, Cadillac’s Super Cruise system. How else would one react to seeing this video of a Tesla employee apparently dozing behind the wheel of a Model S while flying down a California highway?

The video, uploaded by YouTube user Mike Cagulada and posted on Twitter by Amir Efrati of The Information, was apparently shot near Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant on June 4th. By the looks of it, this driver isn’t bobbing for apples — he or she is asleep.

It’s a short video, so we can’t say exactly long the driver of this Tesla Mobile Service vehicle stayed with their head on their chest.

“Sleepy,” says the video’s narrator.

Let’s hope, if that’s the case, that the driver awoke and took manual control of the vehicle, which obviously has its Autopilot features (traffic-aware cruise control and lane-holding autosteer) enabled. As Efrati points out, the dangers of semi-autonomous steering features becomes crystal clear after watching this video.

Early versions of Autopilot, regularly abused by Tesla fanatics who considered it a fully self-driving system, would start an abort procedure if too much time went by without the driver’s hands exerting any force on the steering wheel. The car would slow to a halt after a series of escalating prompts and warnings. After Tesla upgraded the Autopilot system in late 2016, switching from a primarily camera-based system to a radar-guided one, the system became less forgiving. The vehicle issues a visual warning (a message on the gauge display, followed by flashing lights), followed by three series of beeps. If the driver doesn’t comply with requests to retake the wheel, Autopilot features turn off, remaining unavailable until the vehicle is stopped and placed in park.

At speeds under 45 mph, five minutes can pass without the vehicle asking for a wheel hold. This shortens to three minutes for vehicles following a car over 45 mph, or one minute of there’s not a leading car. If the system issues three warnings over an hour of driving, the same lockout occurs. Again, it’s too bad the Fremont video doesn’t run longer.

With General Motors’ Super Cruise system, a Driver Attention Camera monitors the driver’s head position to detect signs of drowsiness or distraction. In both vehicles, you can remove your hands from the steering wheel for certain periods of time. However, while the same lane-holding and adaptive cruise control features exist as in a Tesla, Cadillac’s system goes further to alert the driver.

If the system detects that you’re not paying attention to the road, a light bar in the steering wheel flashes green. If there’s still no retaking of the wheel, the light bar flashes red, the Safety Alert Seat buzzes the driver’s backside, and a series of beeps is emitted. Cruise control also shuts off, slowing the vehicle (this must be manually turned on again if the driver retakes the wheel).  Should that fail to rouse the driver, a voice prompt is heard. After that, if there’s still no driver input, the vehicle slows to a stop in its lane, Super Cruise disengages, four-way flashers come on, and the vehicle contacts OnStar Emergency Services.

Hands up if you feel Tesla’s system could use further improvement.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)]