Auto Pilot For Everyone

Gentle readers, you know I’ve been absent.  Time has gotten the better of me and despite writing half a dozen blogs, I’ve not finished a single one.  Until now.

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of autonomous technology and cannot wait for the future to arrive so, when I feel like it, I can be driven around in complete luxury and security.  (In my world view, I get to keep a nice luxury experience, ride around in a clean vehicle that doesn’t smell, and is somehow affordable and on demand. ) I know that the world could be a safer place with more autonomously driven vehicles than people driven death traps.  But I’ve really only known this this theory.  That is, until my beloved father-in-law got his Tesla X.

A little background…my beloved father-in-law is truly an amazing man.  He is a Californian through and through, that lovely mix of maverick, intellectual, free thinker, slightly cracked, granola eating, gun toting, just slightly too old to be a hippie, yet crazy open minded, non-judgmental, don’t tread on me kinda California.  He was in the air force flying F-whatevers in several tours of Vietnam.  He gleefully bought his sons an Apple II and built computers from scratch in his garage.  He bought the first iPhone, iPad, iTV, but oddly not the watch.  He wires his house for integrated home entertainment systems himself and it almost works.  In a nutshell, he is highly intelligent, early adopter and is not afraid of technology nor machines.  He is not a newbie and most definitely is not a luddite.

However, like all pilots I know, he is a shitty driver.  My father is a helicopter and small plane pilot, who also served two tours in Vietnam.  My husband’s uncle flies for American.  My father-in-law flew for Delta.  I have a cousin who flies for United.  Hell, I used to take flying lessons on a Cub Piper.  I know pilots and I can tell you, they are terrible drivers!  They are used to having all that room around them in the sky, knowing where they are going, and it didn’t matter if they were to the left or to the right, they just flew.  They were most likely the only ones in the sky.  They knew when they approached an airport there were laws to follow, but they still had leeway.  Sadly, they all do this in a car and it scares the living beejezzbees out me!  They take all the terrain up around them and that includes driving in the middle of road, not using turn signals, going around traffic in the bicycle lane….you get what I mean here.

Now add gently aging and degrading eyesight to the mix, and you’ve got a problem.  But add a Tesla X to the mix and you have a nightmare.  The car is simply too complicated.  My father-in-law put an deposit on it sight unseen, upgraded his garage with a charger, and was EXCITED to get this car.  He followed the news closely, loved Elon’s brazen attitude, and really felt this vehicle fit his personal brand – edgy, environmental, forward thinking, CALIFORNIAN.  He said this was his last car ever.  At 76 years old, this car was perfect – the right form factor, a beautiful red, all the greatest technologies, and a spirit he loves to flaunt.

Then he took delivery and it’s been hell ever since.  He has been in five accidents in that damn car and is cursing he didn’t buy another Lexus.

Granted, three of the accidents were in his garage because of those doors that simply do not work.  But he’s had two minor accidents because the screen is too busy and the layout violates the muscle memory he’s developed over six decades.  It’s great to be a disrupter, but come on now, some vehicle layouts just make sense!  He hates this car so much, but is unwilling to take the immediate loss in value.  He bought it for roughly $120 and 4 weeks after purchase (Tesla would NOT take it back), could only get $85 for it.  Even for a man as comfortable as my father-in-law, this was a no-go.

We have tried teaching him the layout, sitting in the car for hours setting everything up for him, but he just has not taken to it.  It is a stark difference from when he drives his old Lexus, which he seems to be able to handle damn-near blind folded.

After three months with no improvement in his driving skills, as a family, we were beginning to have “the talk” – should we take away his license?  Really force his hand on eating the loss and getting another Lexus, which he claims is the greatest car he has ever owned.  And then my father-in-law discovered Auto Pilot.

Voila!  Problem solved.  The cars drives itself surprisingly well and is perfectly suited for the type of assistance he need.  It stays in the middle of lane, something hard for a pilot.  It easily changes lanes, keep a constant speed.  And it gives him a break and some space to learn the controls of the car.  It removes what has here-to-for been a real distracted driving situation – the car drives for him, allowing him to take in the confusing center consul and begin to make sense of it.  The car gives him the grace he needs to build up muscle memory and take back control with confidence.  We are all absolutely amazed at what this step to autonomy means in our lives in a very real and practical way.

I realize that level four autonomous is a ways out.  And some people think that Auto Pilot isn’t even a type of autonomous, just a well marketed ADAS system.  But the reality is, this technology is allowing a man to age gracefully and maintain his freedom.  We don’t have to have “the talk” with him.  He can drive just fine with a little help and in 6 months’ time, the odds are that he won’t even need to engage his Auto Pilot training wheels because the distractions emanating from the center console will be gone.  It will all begin to make sense.

Or it won’t and one of us will buy the car off him and he can go buy another Lexus.

I only wish Auto Pilot and other ADAS systems that really prove useful could be more widely available and not so expensive.  It is truly going to be amazing when people, including older people, can order up a nice car to come pick them up and take them to the grocery store, dog groomer, movies, whatever and get them home again safely.

I hope we figure this out.  Soon.  All those baby boomers are getting old and they way out number my generation.  By sheer numbers alone and coming fast, there are about to be a lot geriatric drivers out there that could likely benefit greatly from ADAS, Auto Pilot, and full autonomous.

October 16, 2016