- Tesla driver Tim Heckman drove 6,392 miles mostly using Autopilot and fully self-driving the vehicle.
- He said Autopilot has gotten “worse” over the years and that FSD is “extremely bad outside of California.”
- But the Tesla driver said the software was a “lifesaver” when it came to long journeys.
The Tesla owner embarked on the 6,392-mile road trip primarily using Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) — and said that while the software was a “lifesaver,” there were some hiccups along the way.
In December, Tim Heckman drove the Model S Plaid from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania and back, using autonomous software for 99% of the trip, an experience he documented on Twitter.
Heckman, a site reliability engineer, told Insider that while the autonomous software proved useful during his trip, it also occasionally made for “stressful driving,” describing incidents where the tech phantom braked and struggled to obey the speed limit, properly track distance, or stay in your lane.
Advantages and disadvantages of autonomous driving
While Autopilot is the driver assistance software built into all Teslas and designed for highway driving, FSD is a beta add-on that can work in urban conditions and is designed for lane changes, stop sign and light recognition, and parking.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the software will eventually be fully autonomous and safer than human drivers, but the beta program still requires a licensed driver to supervise it at all times.
Heckman told Insider that the software sometimes registered cars on the screen that weren’t there or had difficulty recognizing lane markings when there was salt on the road.
“Sometimes it’s like driving with a 15- or 16-year-old driver,” Heckman said of using FSD on city streets outside of California. “There are weird jerky maneuvers. They’ll stop or come into the turning lane too early. In a way, there’s just a general lack of awareness of the environment.”
On the other hand, the Tesla owner said that Autopilot is a “lifesaver” on the highways, adding that he has had to turn off the FSD software on numerous occasions, but that Autopilot only turned off once when the car in front of him on the highway hit its brakes.
“It can be a huge cognitive relief. Long trips can take a mental toll,” Heckman said, noting that he had used autopilot on previous trips and found he could drive longer without getting tired.
The software has also helped him avoid highway crashes in the past.
“I realize that sometimes I switch off when I’m driving,” Heckman said. “This [software] I can turn it up, but I know that if I switch off, at least I know the vehicle is backing me up.”
It gets ‘worse’, not better
IN his Twitter thread of the experience, Heckman wrote that Autopilot was “worse” than when he bought his first Tesla in 2019, and FSD was “extremely bad outside of California.”
Hedges & Company, a digital marketing firm for automakers, found in an analysis of over 175 million car owners in 2019 that the majority of Tesla owners live in California — meaning the AI software could have more opportunities to learn from California’s roads.
Ultimately, Heckman said he can’t imagine buying a non-Tesla electric car — at least not until charging networks catch up to Tesla — but he wants the automaker to rely on LiDAR, radar sensors that can help vehicles detect nearby objects.
Musk has spoken out against expensive hardware in the past and has reportedly demanded above-the-radar cameras because he wants autonomous software to work like human eyes. The car company stopped installing LiDAR in its cars in 2021.
Heckman isn’t the first person to detail problems with Tesla’s Autopilot plugin, or FSD. Many FSD testers have posted videos showing bugs in the software. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating Autopilot and its potential connection to several crashes.
“At the end of the day, I think this thing has tremendous potential,” Heckman he wrote on Twitter. “But at this point there needs to be focus and good performance without causing regressions in the experience, especially on features that affect your safety and the safety of others on the road.”
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