With 40 years of experience as a flight instructor, let me show you how I'd teach the Tesla Autopilot to a flight student. Work with me and we'll get you flying solo soon. Welcome to groundschool! Before we jump into the Tesla and take off on our first autopilot session, some knowledge of the system is in order Definitions: Cruise control- That portion of the Tesla Autopilot that controls speed AutoSteer- That portion of the Tesla Autopilot that controls steering Controls: Autopilot lever (also called "stalk) on left side of steering wheel controls: * Speed up- move lever up to the first position and then back down for increasing speed 1 mph/kph, move lever up to the higher position to increase speed to the next highest 5 mph/kph number * Speed down- move lever down to the first position and then back up for decreasing speed 1 mph/kph, move lever down to the second position to decrease speed to the next lowest 5 mph/kph number * Cruise control and AutoSteer Enabled/disabled button- If either cruise control or autoSteer is enabled, pushing the button at the end of the autopilot lever will disable all active autopilot functions. Pushing the lever forward (away from driver) provides the same termination of either autopilot function. * AutoSteer on- Move the autopilot lever twice back towards you. If cruise control is not already on, it also turns on with this movement. * Turning steering wheel- If you turn the steering wheel past a certain point (not very much) while AutoSteer is active, the Autosteer function will disconnect Now, let's take a look at the autopilot display: When an autopilot mode (Cruise control or AutoSteer) is active, the appropriate icon on the top of the display will turn a blue color. If the AutoSteer icon is missing, AutoSteer is not available under the existing conditions. If it is grey, it is inactive but available. The "71" on the cruise control icon means that the Tesla will work to maintain 71 mph/kph. When the AutoSteer feature detects usable lane edge markers, it will display those markers as solid lines on the edge of the lane. If the lane edge markers are grey, the AutoSteer function is likely not active, but those lane markers are available if you turn AutoSteer on. These lane markers turn blue when AutoSteer is actively using them. When the autopilot system detects objects to the left or right of the Tesla, semi-circles are illuminated. These semi-circles start out with a white or grey color, then switch to yellow, then to orange and finally to red (just a guess, I have never seen red) as the object becomes closer. The Agreement to Use AutoSteer In order to use the AutoSteer features, you need to enable them in your Tesla's Controls settings menu. When you enable the feature, Tesla asks you to agree to a one paragraph statement which basically says that you will use the AutoSteer functions only on highways (not city streets since things like pedestrian crossing and red lights probably aren't programmed in yet) and that AutoSteer is not for use on highways that lack a center divider (this is beta software and additional programming needed to keep you safe without a center divider). If you choose to drive on a two-lane road without a center divider, guard the car's path as if your life depends upon it because ... . Agree to the terms and abide by them, please, for your own safety and the safety of those around you. Your first Autopilot session If you were about to practice your first landings in an airplane, would it make sense to learn while a 30 knot crosswind is roaring, blowing tumbleweeds at high speed across the runway? Would it make sense to practice your first landings during a thunderstorm as lightning arcs down from the sky? In both cases, of course not. Therefore, it only makes sense to learn your autopilot in benign circumstances. Choose a highway that is proceeding straight or only has shallow curves (high-G curves makes AutoSteer work much harder and in the release notes Tesla warns against steep turns using AutoSteer). Choose a highway with relatively-little traffic, one with solid lines marking the left edge of the left lane and right edge of the right lane. Choose a highway with painted lane divider lines rather than just a series of round white bumps separating the lanes. If at all possible, start in a center lane of 3 lanes. Do not have music playing (I will tell you why shortly). Keep your hands on the wheel. * Enable autopilot with the button on the end of the autopilot lever * Move the autopilot lever up to set the desired speed and engage cruise control * Pull the autopilot lever towards you twice to enable AutoSteer If both the cruise control icon and the AutoSteer icon at the top of your autopilot display are blue in color, they are both active. Yippee! Pretty cool, huh? Now before you go much further, I want you to turn the wheel slightly to the left or right to disconnect AutoSteer and then steer the car back into the center of the lane (for obvious reasons, don't intentionally turn off AutoSteer this way when new to it when a car is next to you). Notice that it takes very little force to de-activate AutoSteer. Notice that it doesn't come back on without your intervention. Notice that the disconnect chime was pretty tame and could possibly be missed if you had music playing. Notice that cruise control should still have remained active. Now, reconnect AutoSteer by pulling the lever twice back towards you. This time, disconnect cruise control and AutoSteer by pressing the button at the end of the autopilot lever. Notice that there's no left or right turn tendency placed on the vehicle by disconnecting AutoSteer this way, but you do lose cruise control. Changing lanes Ok, when conditions are good, turn cruise control and AutoSteer back on (individually). To change lanes, check to be sure the new lane is clear and then put on the turn blinker for turning in that direction. The Tesla will change lanes soon afterwards. Be sure to leave that turn blinker on until you are well within the new lane, because if you turn the blinker off too quickly the car might return to the previous lane. Remember that if you have cruise control set for 71 mph and you're following a car that is going 55 mph, the Tesla will accelerate quite enthusiastically as it departs your current lane and enters a lane with room to run. Watch that right lane There's a thread at Teslamotorsclub.com that lists the conditions that most challenge Tesla's AutoSteer function. Be sure to review it before actually trying out AutoSteer in less than ideal conditions. Notice that the more challenges you place on AutoSteer in a situation, the more likely that the performance of AutoSteer will be degraded. Probably the top concern at the moment has to do with the car sometimes either turning towards an exit and then turning back into the right lane or the car actually trying to turn onto the offramp. For this reason, be on your toes when driving in the right lane on highways that are new to you. Interestingly, AutoSteer is reported by many drivers to improve on well-traveled routes over time. Your internal autopilot vs. the Tesla autopilot Chances are that you've been driving for many years and you've grown quite comfortable with cruising the highways. Once you're underway, you hardly have to think about certain driving actions such as staying in the lane because they are now almost subconscious. That's your internal autopilot at work! If there's a huge semi-truck with Roman gladiator spikes whirling around each tractor wheelcap, your internal autopilot favors the other side of the lane as you glide by. Way to go internal autopilot! Now, we're asking you to forego the familiarity of this old friend of yours for a mechanized autopilot built into your Tesla. Here's one way to view this transition. Rather than regarding the Tesla Autopilot as a machine that has taken over the driving duties, I suggest looking at the autopilot as if it had human attributes. Is it the pilot now and you're just a passenger? Hardly! You remain the captain and the Tesla autopilot is merely your copilot, and a rather inexperienced one at that. Initially, you will allow it to drive the Tesla when conditions are easy and its performance is predictably good. As it proves itself and as your confidence increases, you will allow it to drive during more difficult situations (steeper turns, more traffic, less-clear lane markings, etc.). Eventually, you will find the need to override the autopilot. It is just a youngster, still learning (beta version). Fortunately, you have already practiced disconnecting the AutoSteer function by turning the steering wheel a bit or by pushing the disconnect button. You need to come to the opinion of what boundaries you will allow AutoSteer to work within. The boundaries you establish will vary with conditions. For example, a lane with a four foot shoulder to the left has a different boundary than a lane with a concrete divider 6 inches from the lane's edge. When you reach your limit of what you consider safe and comfortable, take over the steering manually by turning the wheel as needed to re-establish a comfortable drive. The good news is that your copilot has fabulous powers of concentration, and as he learns he will continue to improve and may one day save your bacon while you are distracted at a critical moment. No matter who is steering, however, remember that you remain the captain and retain responsibility for the safety of the operation. Here's an important tip about taking over control from the autopilot. When you have a reasonable amount of wiggle-room in the event that AutoSteer fails to perform as needed, you will have time to comfortably get the Tesla back into the center of the lane if something goes wrong. Consider, for example, cruising along in the middle lane when there's no traffic. Yawn, the recovery is easy in such conditions. Now consider that you're driving a winding mountain road with a concrete center divider 6 inches from the left side of the lane you're in. In such cases, your brain needs to be already engaged and carefully plotting how close to that concrete you will ever allow your beautiful Tesla to drift and how you will take over and re-position the vehicle in the event of manual intervention. There's simply not enough time for you to elegantly recover from an error in such a situation unless your mind is already focused on the task. Thus, you focus carefully on the driving when there's little room for error, and you allow yourself to let down some of your guard at other times. Finding your comfort zone with AutoSteer Our Teslas are gorgeous cars. For goodness sake, don't put your Tesla and yourself at risk by trusting the Beta release of AutoSteer to always do the right thing. Stay focused and keep your hands on the wheel. By using AutoSteer now, we're helping Tesla make AutoSteer better. If you are the conservative type, you may just wish to let the others do the Beta testing, and you can jump in after the software is more refined. For most of us, we want to sample this intriguing new technology, and the secret for us is to learn which conditions allow AutoSteer in its present release form to work within our individual comfort zones. I found many combinations of mountain driving or driving on narrow lanes or close to concrete barriers or on roads with poor markings to exceed my comfort zone for relaxed driving. I learned the conditions that make AutoSteer work better, and I have found my own comfort zone now. On a night drive from Vacaville, Ca, to Sacramento, I let my Tesla Model S run along in the center lanes of a highway with moderate traffic on a night when I was tired. AutoSteer performed magnificently and I am confident that this leg was driven more safely than without the help of AutoSteer. When you wish to try AutoSteer in more difficult circumstances, add challenges one at a time so that you and AutoSteer are not overwhelmed. Enjoy the technology, but be safe out there!