Recently I was driving home and I couldn’t engage Autopilot. I kept seeing the availability icon come and go, and found this interesting, but also a sign of why Level 4 or 5 is likely hard to solve in a general way.
This is part of a series that covers my experience with a Tesla Model Y.
When I first moved to Denver, I was driving down I-25 early one morning. There was a stretch that turned East and was blinded. It felt like the sun was directly in front of me on the horizon. This is something that I’ve gotten used to a few times a year, as the sun seems to be at a lower angle than I see anywhere else in the world.
My Tesla Model Y, Long Range (MYLR) apparently had the same problem this week. I was out early to town and ended up coming home around 8am. Driving East, the sun was low and seemed to be coming directly into the car. Fortunately it was slightly to the right, so I could see straight ahead. This is a section of road that I often engage autopilot as it’s got some ups and downs, is fairly quiet with a median, and I like letting the car control the drive.
However, when I engaged Autopilot (AP) I got the alert that it wasn’t available. I glanced down and saw the icon, which indicates AP is available, so I assumed maybe I’d done it at a place where there weren’t lines. The icon disappears in intersections or other places where the car doesn’t see lines immediately.
I tried again and the same thing happened. As I glanced down a few times, I’d see the icon come and then go. I looked out and realized that I could barely see the lines in the center of the road because of the glare.
This continued for a few minutes until the road turned left further and a large hill shaded the road. I engaged AP and it handled the rest of the drive out to the road that turns toward my house. Once engaged, it seemed to do well, even on a few hills where the glare was strong, though not as strong as it was leaving town.
Radar and Lidar
There are a number of situations and places where I think that lack of radar or lidar would help. This isn’t one of them. Unless radar is painting the painted lines in the middle of the road, it wouldn’t solve this problem.
In a city, or even suburb, where the roads are well mapped, this might not be a problem. In a neighborhood, or place where cars might park on the street, then perhaps radar could help, but vision is vision, and it’s not something that a computer can necessarily do better. Humans make mistakes with glare and blinding light, and cars that depend on vision can do the same thing.
Actually, I think the recognition of visual artifacts ( shadows, glare, etc.) is slower and more difficult for computers than humans. Humans will also make mistakes, but like many, I think I have less tolerance for computers making the same mistakes. Not sure that’s rational, but I do feel that way.
This is a reason that I think L4 or L5 isn’t easy, or likely, outside of highly mapped and geo-fenced areas.