posted on May 2, 2019

Hands-on, hands-off which is it?

Parallel parking can be a pain. If you’re like most people, it could be the single most frustrating driving maneuver, especially if you have to start over a few times and you think everyone is watching you. It’s enough to wish for valet parking everywhere you go, even if you do have to tip.

There is good news, though. Tesla’s Autopilot technology can take care of your parallel parking needs. But Autopilot goes beyond just parking — it can take over highway cruising duties, helping eliminate the stress often associated with long commutes, traffic jams, and aggressive driving.

While technology continues to move forward, there are still a lot of questions from consumers worried about handing over decision-making power to a computer. There’s also still a lot of clarification needed on what semi-autonomous driving really means, but one thing is for sure — the technology needed for early self-driving cars is almost here. And you can try it out for yourself by test driving a Tesla

Who’s who in the semi-autonomous car race

Autonomous driving used to be all science fiction and futuristic like the “Jetsons.” And while it might still be some years before cars are completely driving themselves, the competition for semi-autonomous systems continues to heat up.

Leading the pack is the Tesla Enhanced Autopilot system, which features eight external cameras, a radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a powerful onboard computer to guide you on your journey (if you’re driving a pre-2014 Tesla, you may want to look up what features your car has built in). The Autopilot system’s Self-Driving Suite includes Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to help you match speeds with other cars on the road; Autosteer to keep you within your lane, while allowing you to move to another lane with the help of the Auto Lane Changes; and Summon and Autopark, to help you into and out of tight spots with a touch of a button. 

Cars equipped with Tesla Autopilot can also receive software updates as the technology continues to evolve. But Tesla isn’t alone in this market. More car companies are rolling out vehicles with semi-autonomous systems of their own, including:


Using a combination of cameras, radar, lidar, and powerful computers, drivers of the Audi A8 can let the car drive itself at speeds up to 37 mph. Traffic Jam Pilot will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and essentially become passengers. However, Traffic Jam Pilot is currently not available in A8s produced for the US.


The BMW X6 promises a system that includes Lane Departure Assistance, Park Assistance, and Surround View to help you maneuver out of the stickiest situations and provide drivers with the support they need. The Traffic Jam Assistant is also equipped with interior cameras to monitor driver attention.


Experiencing autonomous driving isn’t limited to high-end cars. Nissan recently added ProPILOT Assist to updated models of the Nissan Rogue and the Nissan Leaf.

The first-generation technology allows drivers to maintain space from the car in front at a preset distance and keep the vehicle centered in single-lane driving. The ProPILOT systems can bring a car to a full stop, hold it in place, and bring the car back up to speed once traffic starts to move.


The Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot will be part of the 2020 refresh of the S-Class, allowing the car to drive itself in certain situations without any driver input. If the driver needs to take over, the vehicle will alert them with a notification.


One of the newest additions to the competition is the Cadillac Super Cruise system. GM is also the latest company to claim to be the most advanced, with a system designed for hands-free driving on limited highways. Cadillac Super Cruise will be found initially in the 2019 Cadillac CT6 Platinum. 

There are several other car brands in the competition, along with tech giants like Waymo (a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.) and Amazon, that are actively pursuing the development of autonomous driving technology.

Tesla models equipped with Autopilot

Image: Tesla

Tesla began offering Autopilot technology in the Model S in 2014. By 2016, all Tesla cars were equipped with the hardware to use Autopilot, with the option to upgrade to the “Full Self-Driving Capability” suite. All Tesla cars built since September 2014, whether they’re a Model S, Model X, or Model 3, will have the ability to drive on their own in the future, once the technology gets there.


The steps to activate Autopilot differ between the Model S, Model X, and Model 3. Make sure to review the Tesla instruction manual thoroughly. If you are a visual learner, watch the videos produced by Tesla to understand how to use the Autopark technology for the Model S and Model X and to navigate on Autopilot.


There’s a lot of talk regarding the safety of autonomous driving, and more specifically, the safety of Tesla Autopilot.

Tesla makes a point of emphasizing the following instructions: “keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times” and “maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.” The instruction comes even before Tesla outlines how to use the Autopilot’s “Full Self Driving Suite.” It’s a reminder that even if the movement is trending toward self-driving cars, humans will still have an active role.

In the words of Spiderman/Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s a fitting reminder for all drivers looking to jump into a semi-autonomous car, don’t you think?

More answers to Autopilot questions

The time when we can sit back and tell our car where to drive is getting closer by the day. But there are still a lot of questions out there, especially if you’re pushing the envelope the way Tesla does. Time will tell just how many questions about Tesla’s Autopilot system will come out and how Tesla CEO Elon Musk will respond.

In the meantime, more and more information for consumers is becoming available, including a system to determine just how much autonomous technology a car has. Staying informed will help you make smarter decisions, especially if you’re looking to check out a car with any self-driving capability. The only question left is which one will you be driving?