Tesla Model S: How do the car’s automated features work?

Although not quite a driverless car, the Tesla Model S does boast an array of automated features including autopilot, lane change assist and automated parking. The most revolutionary of these, autopilot, works by utilising a forward radar, 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned around the car, a forward-facing camera and a digitally-controlled electric braking system.

The camera reads road signs and checks for objects in front of the Model S’ projected line, while the radar and ultrasonic sensors constantly sense five metres (16 feet) around the car to check for objects such as cars in traffic. The data is fed to the car’s engine control unit (ECU), which determines what lane or path the Model S needs to take. The idea is to take the strain out of situations such as congestion, offering increased comfort for the driver.

Similarly, the software and hardware is able to steer to keep the Model S within a designated lane, or even change lanes with just a tap of a turn signal, all while managing speed by reading road signs. Automatic parking is also possible under the same technology. The car will notify the driver when it detects an available parking space and be capable of smoothy manoeuvring into it.

Tesla Model S autopilot
Tesla Model S autopilot explained
Tesla UK Georg Ell
Tesla UK’s Georg Ell

Q&A with Tesla UK’s Georg Ell, country director

What do you think is the biggest advantage of owning a Tesla right at this moment?

It’s the opportunity to be part of something that is shaping the future of motoring. It’s future-proof, fun, exciting and safe at the same time. In 200 years from now, people will say Tesla was the [point] where we, as a planet, decided to turn our back on internal combustion engines that poison our air and damage the atmosphere. The quality of air is so bad that 50,000 people die per year due to poor air quality. Tesla is leading the change: people will soon look at motoring today much in the same way as when they think back to a time when smoking on aeroplanes and in pubs was permitted. It’s a slice of the future, today.

How will you ensure a Model S is still on the road in ten years’ time?

Because there are so few elements to a Tesla. It’s more viable than a conventional car as the system is simpler: all that’s left on our car when stripped back is a single moving part – the motor. This makes it far more easier to maintain financially than a conventional internal combustion-engined vehicle.

Lithium-ion batteries are known to deteriorate after a number of charges. What is Tesla doing to combat this?

Tesla currently gives an eight-year, unlimited mileage warranty on the battery and drivetrain. We’re also developing a drivetrain that can achieve a million miles! Batteries will have an element of degradation, about one per cent per 10,000 miles, but our battery capacity is improving year-on-year by five per cent. We are also working on a system where Tesla owners can pay to upgrade their battery in future, should they wish. We also guarantee to buy a customer’s car back from them in three years’ time, and that’s at a minimum of 50 per cent of the value of the car.

What are the greatest challenges for Tesla over the next five years?

A lot of it comes down to our own execution of following the plan and doing a good job. We’re doing a lot with consumers, government and the wider industry to show our cars are more viable and better than a conventional car. The increase in consumer acceptance will grow competition and we welcome that. We are a drop in the ocean in terms of our size as an automotive company, but the pie will get bigger. National government is very excited about electric cars, we just need to ensure [that] local governments are equally [as] excited, helping us put more chargers in the street to ensure more people can feasibly drive our cars.

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