Last week I on the way for a family lunch at a local sushi buffet we had a little more excitement than usual. On Route 90 in Massachusetts the drive is usually full of idiots on their phones texting, people with crazy bumper stickers and terrible things on their vehicles. And, of course, LOT of traffic. But sometimes you also get flying hubcaps…
We were cruising along (no autopilot) and the hubcap on the van in front of us popped off. It first went to my left, but then a steel band separated from it and went left and up as the hubcap stayed low and veered right. With cars all around me I couldn’t dodge both, I had to choose which one to hit.
The band looked a lot smaller and lighter and was at a height where it would hit the glass, not my paint, so I decided to take that on. The band struck my windshield and then went spinning off. The hubcap continued to veer to my right and went off the road before the car behind me came along. As far as I can tell neither hit any other vehicle.
Fortunately my reaction was only to move slightly left in my lane. That wasn’t because I didn’t notice as I clearly remember thinking about what to do. I thought about which would do less damage and what the safest action would be. Braking hard or swerving to either side could have caused a lot more trouble and I knew my Tesla could take the hit when needed. While you may want to dodge flying trash, animals and the like you often have to make the tough call and go straight through those things.
You never know until you get into these situations that you’ll do the right thing. Thinking about these kinds of scenarios before they happen, reviewing after, and a lot of driving experience helps you make the right split second decision when its your turn.
Autopilot and flying objects
This experience got me thinking about Tesla’s Autopilot. Navigating the roads and dodging cars and trucks is one big challenge they have yet to fully master, but what about flying objects? The car can react a LOT faster than I can and so it has more chances of possibly doing the wrong thing. It also has a lot more time to fully analyze the situation and do the right thing if programmed correctly.
With today’s sensors the car probably wouldn’t see the objects I encountered, but in the future it may well be able to see them and then yet another level of decision making must be programmed. Full autopilot that is as good as an experienced driver is a massive undertaking and we still have a long way to go. While Tesla’s autopilot may seem already adept on the highway, i’m not sure (if I had it) if i’d be ready to let it fully make these kinds of decisions for me yet. The whole experience was a good first hand reminder of why you should keep your hands on the wheel at all times.
In the end I was fortunate — I got some rubber on my glass that I could remove with baking soda, and I was left with a couple scratches in my line of sight. I’ll have to check with a glass expert to see if there are any safety issues with the depth of those scratches — tempered glass gets a lot less structurally sound after the outside layer is compromised. You normally want every significant windshield impact repaired but i’m hoping not to be writing about the woes of a windshield replacement for the Tesla Model S anytime soon…
My dashcam caught the whole thing in action. Should I ever need proof of what happened for insurance its all there including the van’s license plate, proof that the hubcap came from that van etc. The dashcam provides that extra level of comfort and the ability to go back and review your own reactions in situations like this so that, like Autopilot, you’re learning from each and every experience.
The brief video is below:
Peggy Lawing said:
Wonder if that limo service would be liable for your damage. You have the proof for the video. Do you always have a dash cam running?
It wasn’t intentional so I doubt it. There’s zero deductible on glass repairs in MA too so not needed in this case. If it had been body damage it may have been more needed.
Camera runs 24×7 front and rear. It’s been on for 18 months and solid.
Brock Nanson said:
Human wetware between the ears is capable of doing incredible things. While your decision-making-logic explanation makes sense, I think that it’s actually a hindsight analysis! In reality, your instinct made essentially that analysis and decision faster than you could perform the same feat – consciously – in real time!
And that really does illustrate just how complicated autonomous driving systems will have to be, to perform as well or better than we do ourselves now.
Glad you all are safe!