I recently listened to a shared experience of a couple who rented a Tesla Model 3 for a trip from San Jose to Yosemite in California while they were down visiting their son in the Bay area. While the man felt totally relaxed at the wheel while Elon’s auto pilot navigated the crowded highways and byways, the wife’s description of being at the wheel was the polar opposite. Crazy anxiety!
It made me wonder if I could sit behind the wheel and feel comfortable while someone’s algorithm did the driving for me. I don’t even use cruise control in any of my vehicles. It just does not drive to my liking. I won’t give up the gas pedal. How could I possibly give up the gas pedal, brake and steering wheel? Never say never, I guess.
The man’s experience with the Tesla enticed me with the possibilities. The last time I drove in the San Francisco area it was one of those high anxiety drives. The traffic was heavy, the speeds were fast (120 - 140 kmh) and six or eight lanes each way. On your first trip through getting in the correct lane for exit and merging into high speed traffic was a daunting task. Missing my exit or failing to merge and ending up exiting on the next exit not by choice did happen.
The Tesla completely managed this scenario. Once programmed to a destination, let's just say the vehicle knew where to go and how to get there. Getting in the correct lane was a given. The person behind the wheel has the power to override the vehicle at any time but all that is required is a touch of your hand on the wheel to keep autopilot doing its job.
Sitting behind the wheel with my hand resting on the wheel and providing no input would be a real leap of faith for yours truly. Just think of all the scenarios you process while driving. Slowing traffic in front, lane changes, corners. Is this all going to happen smooth enough that I won’t jump in? Does a vehicle on auto pilot look ahead further than just the vehicle in front? Does it slow for puddles or ice? How does it change lanes in bumper to bumper traffic without making eye contact with the driver beside?
All these processes going on in your head ultimately determine the success of your drive but they also end in a feeling of exhaustion when you reach your destination. Imagine being refreshed after navigating rush hour traffic.
The current state of autonomous driving is known as level 2. The vehicle can control the steering, braking and throttle. The driver is still required to be behind the wheel and paying attention with a hand on the wheel. Is paying attention with little to no input relaxing? For some of us, maybe. Others, I don’t think so.
Level 3 autonomous brings eyes-off driving. You are still in the driver's seat but texting and sitting there will be okay. You may even watch a movie. Will I still get car sick?