Change at hand for Dunedin Tesla driver

Dean Hall's Tesla Model S P100D drives him to Dunedin Airport. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Dean Hall's Tesla Model S P100D drives him to Dunedin Airport. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Tesla Model S P100D. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Tesla Model S P100D. Photo: Gerard O'Brien

If you pass a red sports car on Dunedin's Southern Motorway and its driver appears to be doing anything but actually driving, don't panic.

Dean Hall's Tesla Model S P100D electric supercar is doing all the driving for him.

The RocketWerkz founder and chief executive bought the $262,000 car this year and, over the past six months, it has been calibrating itself (gathering data about how Mr Hall drives and what the roads are like) to steer itself and control its speed.

Now the calibration is complete, the autopilot function has come online and the car effectively drives itself on certain roads.

''It was definitely freaky the first time, but it's surprising how quickly you get used to it.''

Model S vehicles come equipped with a camera at the top of the windshield, a forward-looking radar, and ultrasonic acoustic location sensors in the front and rear bumpers, providing a 360deg buffer zone.

The equipment allows it to detect road signs, lane markings, obstacles and other vehicles.

Combined with the adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning technology, it effectively gives the car an autopilot that allows limited hands-free driving.

Mr Hall said he could easily have a coffee and sort out his diary while the car drove him home or to the airport, but it was not clear whether present legislation would allow it.

''New Zealand has quite permissive laws for self-driving cars. You basically have to be in control of the car - we don't necessarily specify what that means.

''It would be interesting to see if I was on my cellphone, am I still in control of the car?''

He did not know how the police would view that.

''It will be interesting to see what happens.''

In the meantime, he is taking a precautionary approach.

''It is tempting to have the morning coffee, but because it's still very much in beta, you really do need to keep an eye on the road.''

One of the car's safety measures is sensors in the steering wheel, to make sure the driver's hands are near it in case the driver needs to take over quickly.

The sensors are designed to pull the car over and stop if the hands move away for too long.

He said it was an important feature because there had been instances of people in California falling asleep in their Teslas on the way to work.

On top of the self-driving technology, the car is the world's fastest accelerating production car, capable of accelerating from zero to 100kmh in 2.4 seconds.

Mr Hall likened it to riding in a fighter jet.

Six months on, he is still much in love with his new car and the novelty is far from wearing off.

He said the next ''upgrade'' would be the ability for the car to go from any point to any other point, not just the routes the car knows.

''You read about when horses and carts were replaced with cars - this is also just such a paradigm shift.''

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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