Tesla's autopilot went live a couple of weeks ago (it's one of the first car brands to do this).
Unlike the autopilots and cruise controls of the past, it's an autonomous system. This means it isn't limited to the capabilities you get when you pop it out of the box. It gets better as you train it and provide it with experience.
Here's some first hand feedback from Tesla drivers on how fast the autopilot is learning:
So far I have a little over 300 miles on autopilot, mostly 20 miles at a time on my commute to and from work. The first day when I was in the right lane, as I approached exit ramps, it would dive for the exit ramp. I quickly learned to apply torque to the wheel to hold the car on the interstate until I had passed the exit. Each day the system seems to have less tendency to follow the exit ramps as I pass. The last two days it only gave a momentary wiggle and moved over maybe six inches towards the exit ramp then it recovered and moved on down the road. This morning it gave only a very slight hesitation, so little that I did not have to correct it at all. I find it remarkable that it is improving this rapidly. I wonder if it is getting more information on this section of road or if it is changing how it reacts to any exit ramp?
(John Robb: the answer is both..)
Here's another driver training the autopilot to navigate tight S turns:
I noticed that on sharply curved ramp connecting I-80 west with CA-113 north in Davis, the first time it took the curve at full speed and wasn't able to stay in lane resulting in a "take control immediately" alert. After a few more times on this curve with firm pressure on the steering wheel it's now learned to slow down and today had no issue taking the curve. Definitely learning.
AP is definitely is learning. Each weekday morning I drive home on Route 50 in the Virginia countryside after dropping my kid at school. Watching the display while driving manually last week, I could see that AP lost lock on the road where Route 50 drops from a 4 lane divided highway to 2 lanes. Where the left lane merges into the right, the dashed line disappears for a while. Later on in the 2 lane section, a right turn lane comes off during a left hand curve in the road. I could see the projected course bend right and then snap back left: I had been using AP on the 4 lane stretch before the lane drop and was glad I had turned it off. During the last couple days I have seen the projected course tracking correctly in both problem locations. The time of day, lighting and weather has been the same every time, and there were never any cars ahead to follow (I’m traveling against morning traffic). Then this morning I tried AP the whole length of my trip on 50 and it tracked perfectly.
These drivers aren't alone. Already, Tesla drivers using this system are adding a ~ million miles of experience to it every day.
Here's a heads up 0n what this means...
Most of the systems we currently use aren't built to improve through use. They have locked in performance and capabilities. These systems can only improve through revisions and patches made by technical experts.
That approach is on the way out.
Systems can now be improved operationally ....
Further, for the most complex activities, this will be the only type of system you will be able to buy.
I can't emphasis enough how big a change this is.
PS: This suggests that we will soon be categorizing everything in the military inventory into dumb systems and autonomous systems. Systems that you improve through use -- from the weapon you carry to the weapon you fly to the weapon you work with -- and the systems with locked in performance.
PSS: Few car brands will survive the transition to electric vehicles. Fewer still will survive the transition to autonomous vehicles (and the shift from car ownership to driving services made possible by autonomy). I'm not convinced any existing US car brand will survive the next 20 years.