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For 15 days, Tesla has given its European users the option to try a demo of the Enhanced Autopilot for free. Let’s take a look from the UX perspective and see if it is really worth paying € 3800 extra for it.
First of all … Is the communication between Tesla and its users good?
Offering this free trial is an example that communication between Tesla and its customers is not as it should be. Many European users have known about this opportunity either through specialized forums, or because browsing among the autopilot options of their vehicle have found by chance, that they could activate it, there are others, who probably do not enjoy it because they will have passed the fifteen-day trial without them being aware that they could activate it.
We could also think that it is a strategy to measure how many of its users are active searchers of hidden information on social networks, but I do not think this is the case;)
Tesla is thinking of offering this service as a monthly subscription.
Are there legal restrictions in Europe?
Before diving into the matter, I must clarify that in Europe, Tesla has many legal restrictions regarding what the vehicle can do, if we compare it with what is currently allowed to do in the USA.
These are some of them:
- In Europe, the turning radius of the vehicle in very steep curves is limited, if the autopilot is activated, the vehicle asks the user to take control, while in the United States that same curve radius would have been done by himself.
- The summon option in Europe only works within bluetooth range and in private parking lots, not on public roads. In the United States, the vehicle will pick you up wherever you are.
- In the United States, the vehicle performs overtaking on the road by itself, while in Europe it only does so if it has the user’s permission through confirmation. In addition, in the American version overtaking on the road is more agile and in Europe it is somewhat clumsy.
- In the United States, the system checks that the user is putting pressure on the steering wheel every minute, in Europe every 10 seconds.
What is Enhanced Autopilot?
The vehicle has eight cameras that offer a 360-degree view around with a range of up to 250 meters. In addition, it has twelve ultrasonic sensors to complete this vision, allowing the detection of solid and soft objects.It also has a forward radar that provides additional data about the world with a redundant wavelength that allows you to see through heavy rain, mist, dust and even the vehicle ahead.
The trial version of the enhanced autopilot allows you to test:
- Navigate on autopilot, the vehicle goes to the address indicated by the user but only on the route that includes highways.
- Summon.That the vehicle goes by itself towards the user as indicated by the application.
Let’s analyze each of these three functionalities from a UX perspective.
Tesla, by default, offers all its vehicles the autopilot, the difference with the enhanced one is that this one offers the option of overtaking and taking the necessary highway exits to reach the address that has been previously established as a destination. In such a way that it only works when you have entered an address to go to. This, sometimes, could be useful to be able to activate it when making a long trip, without having to indicate the destination. But at the moment it is not allowed.
This would be the screen as shown when an address has been entered but the “navigate on autopilot” option has not yet been activated.
Once the user presses the “navigate on autopilot” option, the button changes to blue but it is necessary for the user to lower the right steering wheel lever twice to actually start the process, something that is not indicated anywhere , and even if it is the first times it is used, it would be good if this message could be received.
In this small gif that I have included below, it shows how it works and how it offers the possibility of changing lanes. For this change to be effective, the user must press the indicator to confirm it. In order not to be looking at the screen all the time, it would be very positive if they included an audible warning when the vehicle suggests a lane change because if the user is not looking at the screen, they are not aware of this suggestion.
It seems to me that that blue button that shows that autopilot is activated works as a false affordance, all the time it gives the feeling that the user must press it to start this functionality. Simply changing the copy of the button for “Autopilot On”, would provide more useful information to the user.
The lane change, although the way in which the user wants it to happen can be selected, I believe that although it does it in an appropriate way, the humans who are driving in the vehicles behind can get a little nervous. If you are overtaking in the left lane, it takes a little while to suggest returning to the right lane, until the system sees it really clearly and considers that it is not a danger, but nowadays, on Spanish roads, users are very impatient, in a hurry and many end up overtaking you on the right.
Another point that I did not like is that if there are three lanes available, it always suggests going through the middle one, I suppose it will be to facilitate the incorporation of vehicles that want to join the highway, but I consider that whenever possible it is necessary to go by the far right lane.
If at any given moment, the user decides to change lanes himself, the autopilot is deactivated and the only warning that shows that it is not working is that the blue line of the lane disappears and the steering wheel icon appears as deactivated instead of blue and the address arrow also turns black. While the user is driving, at a glance it may not be enough change to detect that it is no longer activated. It is necessary to make it more evident. The user needs some kind of alert that indicates the autopilot has been deactivated so they notice that they must reactivate it if they wish to continue using it. Also, keeping the “navigate on autopilot” button in blue it seems that it is still in “on” mode.
The system is programmed to never overtake on the right by itself, it only does so if the user presses the accelerator authorizing this behavior, which is generally not allowed.
I have noticed that when approaching the highway exit near the marked destination, the vehicle itself activates the turn signal and takes the exit without asking for user confirmation, indicating with a “toast” that the autopilot once off the highway, will stop working. He does it quite well but on one occasion it took the exit in a somewhat abrupt way.
In many Tesla forums, users complain that the vehicle sometimes performs what they call phantom braking. This means that for no apparent reason, the vehicle “freaks out” and brakes abruptly. During this test of the enhanced autopilot it happened on two occasions.
As I mentioned before, the turning radius of the vehicle is restricted in Europe, that is quite dangerous when the autopilot is on, if the authorities allowed the vehicle to turn what it considers, there would not be difficult situations to tackle. At one point, the radius of the curve did not allow the system to maneuver properly and the vehicle entered the left lane. Definitely, legal limitations can put more in danger than help the users.
Another feature to test with the enhanced autopilot was that the vehicle parked by itself. In order for it to offer autoparking, the car must go slowly in parking search mode, it only detects it for the moment if there are more vehicles parked, because it needs them as a reference.
When the car considers that the spot is suitable for him to park himself, an icon with a “p” simply appears. And the user, when it is the first time that they use it, may not know what to do, it would be good to have some indication such as “press reverse to start autoparking”, because this is how the process really starts, selecting reverse.
Once the process has started, the user is informed at all times of what is happening, if another vehicle appears unexpectedly, the car brakes and offers the option to resume with the parking process. It parks in a smooth way and makes the necessary maneuvers so that the vehicle fits well into the available space.
There should be an option so that if the user has found a parking spot in which they think the vehicle fits, they can select the option of having the vehicle park only without having to wait for the car itself to find a suitable space.
And finally, summon the vehicle
I have to admit that this is the option that I most wanted to try, it is what I find the most futuristic. On many occasions in my life, if I have been away from my vehicle I have thought, “I wish the car could come and get me”. But for the moment and once again due to legal restrictions, the vehicle can only go a very short distance since it has to be within bluetooth range.
This functionality has a lot of support for the user with messages in case it has not been possible to connect with the vehicle, in case the user is too far away or in case the vehicle has an open door.
Here in Europe, it occurs to me that this option can be useful for those occasions when it is difficult to get into the vehicle because the cars that are parked next to it are too close and the doors cannot be opened properly to enter. Beyond that, I don’t see any use for it.
Although it is not allowed in Europe, the app offers the Smart Summon option, in it, the vehicle would go to pick up the user at the address where they were.
It is a shame because it creates expectations that cannot be met.
What do I like about the autopilot in general?
I have to admit that every time I test the Tesla autopilot, I feel that this type of driving would make the roads a more respectful place, cars do not understand egos, they are respectful, they do not accelerate so that a driver does not join the highway as they do Many humans and if the system perceives that a vehicle is coming, it gives way and keeps the safe distance, it always keeps the distance, never overtakes on the right and of course, does not race with other users. Driving on an autopilot provides rest, calm and a lot of stress relief, especially on long journeys.
What does not convince me?
I did not like having to confirm overtaking, it would be great to be able to trust that he will do well. I do not perceive a great advantage over the autopilot that comes by default that it is worth spending that amount of additional money.
Autopark is comfortable but I think that in big cities, where drivers drive very impatiently, it can be a bit tedious to wait for the car to recognize spaces where you think you can park.
The summon, as I have said, beyond rectifying if you have parked the car too far outside or want to get into it comfortably, at the moment I don’t see much use for it in Europe. Maybe the day they allow the vehicle to pick you up will be different.
Do I think it is worth subscribing today to Enhanced Autopilot?
Maybe if Tesla offers the option of monthly subscriptions in the future, some users could sign up for vacation periods or if they have to take long trips, but today, I think it is too expensive for the limitations it offers.
I think there is still a long way to go for autonomous cars to be a safe and affordable reality for a large public, and UX designers have a lot to contribute to achieve safe and easy-to-use systems for all types of users.
Testing the UX of the Tesla Enhanced Autopilot European version demo was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.