When purchasing a Tesla, you may come across the terms Autopilot, “Full Self-Driving” (aka FSD), and even occasionally “Enhanced Autopilot” leaving you to wonder what the difference is, especially since these packages can be rather expensive. In this article, break down the differences between Autopilot vs Full Self-Driving to help you decide for yourself which option makes sense for you.
Update April 2021: Elon Musk says that a FSD subscription option will be coming in May 2021.
If you’d like to read more about Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features in-depth, be sure to check out our Autopilot and Full Self Driving Review for more.
The Autopilot Lineup
The Tesla driver assistance features include the following tiers below. Note that “Enhanced Autopilot” is something Tesla previously offered and has shown up again on a limited availability basis as an upgrade for existing owners, but is unclear when or if it will be offered again in the future.
Here is the current Autopilot lineup:
- Autopilot – This is basic driver assistance as found in most other cars with autopilot today. It’s included with all vehicles.
- Traffic Aware Cruise Control. (TACC). This stop-and-go distance cruise control will follow other cars, stop in traffic and automatically resume.
- Automatic Steering / Lane Centering. This keeps the vehicle in the lane when used with TACC above.
- Full Self-Driving – This $10,000 option greatly enhances the basic Autopilot functionality above by adding…
- Navigate-on-Autopilot. When a destination is entered, the vehicle can fully navigate itself to the destination (currently only on freeways from on-ramp to exit and with a confirmation for lane changes).
- Auto Lane Changes. When using both TACC + Automatic Steering, a driver can use the turn signal to automatically change lanes when it’s clear.
- Summon. Allows the vehicle to be summoned from its current location to another location nearby (in private parking lots, for example).
- Autopark. This allows the vehicle to park itself in both parallel and perpendicular spots.
- Traffic Light & Stop Sign Recognition. Currently alerts you at the last moment if there is a stop sign or traffic light (will not stop the vehicle) while on Autopilot.
- Autosteer on City Street. Future feature, likely rolling out in 2021 that allows Autopilot to navigate and make turns on city streets. See a preview of it here.
Next, we’ll break down the three areas, standard Autopilot and finally Full Self-Driving so you get a sense of what’s included in each one.
Standard Active Safety Features
First, let’s cover active standard safety features. All new Tesla vehicles built after 2016 come with a suite of sensors around the vehicle, including cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar that allow the vehicle to understand and react to its environment (see AP1 vs AP2 vs AP3 for hardware differences). Using a powerful computer and software, the vehicle comes standard with the following free active safety features:
- Lane Assist
- Collision Avoidance Assist
- Speed Assist
- Auto High Beam
These core safety features are somewhat similar to ones found standard on other vehicles, but with additional ‘intelligence’ built-in and continually improved via Tesla over-the-air software updates (something no other auto manufacturer currently does). Before the March 2019 Autopilot renaming, these were confusingly referred to as ‘standard Autopilot’, but now are simply included with the vehicles.
Here’s a breakdown of each one.
The Tesla Lane Assist feature does three things:
- Alerts you if you drift from your lane (called Lane Departure Warning, similar to traditional Lane Keeping Assist functions)
- Warns you if there’s an object in your blind spot (like Blind Spot Monitoring in other cars)
- Intervenes if it believes you may drift into an adjacent object when driving between 30 and 85 mph.
Of the three features above, only Land Departure Warning is an option. When turned on, it will vibrate the steering wheel when it believes you are drifting out of the lane. You can turn this on and off in the Tesla Settings menu under Controls > Autopilot > Lane Departure.
The Tesla blind spot warning feature will turn the lanes on the display red if it detects an object in the blind spot when you turn on the blinker.
Finally, the steering intervention functionality will automatically steer the vehicle into a safer position within the driving lane if it detects that a potential collision with an adjacent vehicle is imminent (for example, if you accidentally drift into a lane with a car in it). It only works between 30 and 80 mph on major roadways where the lane markings are clearly visible.
Collision Avoidance Assist
The Collision Avoidance Assist portion of standard Autopilot functionality provides the following features:
- Forward Collision Warning – this provides an audible and visual warning if the vehicle determines there is a high risk of a frontal collision.
- Side Collision Warning – this warns the driver of potential collisions along the side of the vehicle.
- Automatic Emergency Braking – this will automatically apply the brakes if there is an imminent frontal collision to help reduce or avoid impact.
- Obstacle-Aware Acceleration – this reduces the vehicle’s speed if it detects an object in it’s driving path
Forward Collision Warning portion of Autopilot will not only detect vehicles but also motorcycles, pedestrians and bicyclists. It utilizes the sensors and cameras placed around the vehicle, plus the sophisticated neural network used by Tesla to identify objects. The Forward Collision Warning is the first alert to the driver, and if no action is taken the other systems such as Automatic Emergency Braking come into play.
Side Collision Warning is similar to Forward Collision Warning above but monitors the side of the car. In some cases, it will actually apply steering to avoid a collision, if possible.
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) works by utilizing the forward looking cameras and radar to determine if a collision is imminent. If a collision is considered unavoidable, Tesla AEB will apply the brakes to reduce the severity of impact or avoid it altogether, if possible. It works between 7 mph and 90 mph.
Obstacle-Aware Acceleration is meant to reduce the impact of a collision by reducing motor torque. What does that mean? If the vehicle detects an object in its path while you are pressing the accelerator pedal, it will reduce the power to the motors to mitigate potential damage to the vehicle and object. For example, if you intend to back out of your garage, but accidentally put the vehicle in forward Drive, it will detect an object in front and reduce speed to reduce damage.
Speed Assist uses GPS data and speed limit signs to help determine the car’s position and what the speed limit should be. Using that information, it can optionally be set to warn the driver on screen or via a Chime if you’re exceeding the speed limit. On the Model 3, you can also press the displayed speed limit sign on the touchscreen to automatically set the speed to the current speed limit.
Auto High Beam
Auto High Beam will automatically turn High Beams on or off depending on the surroundings. If the vehicle detects there is enough light or another car is approaching, it will turn off High Beams. Conversely, if it is sufficiently dark, it will automatically turn on High Beams.
This is a “beta” feature that truly hints towards autonomous driving capabilities of the future. It allows the vehicle to fully navigate itself on ‘closed-access’ freeways or highways (meaning those that have on-ramps and off-ramps and no cross-traffic intersections). Once you enter a destination into the navigation system and engage Autosteer, you’ll have the option to press the “Navigate on Autopilot” button. This will then follow the optimal path on the freeway, automatically changing lanes (with driver confirmation currently) and navigating freeway interchanges as needed.
Standard Autopilot Features
Autopilot the umbrella term used by Tesla for its semi-automated driving and covers both “Standard Autopilot” and the optional “Full Self-Driving” package we’ll detail below.
The standard Autopilot included with all new vehicles (except the “off menu” Model 3 Standard Range) allows a vehicle to steer itself and automatically accelerates and brake for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane.
This is similar to other cars today that have Stop-and-Go Adaptive Cruise Control plus Lane Centering (see Cars with Autopilot). However, in Tesla’s case the system is far more powerful and accurate, using cameras all around the vehicle and AI computing hardware. In addition, updates are made continually over the air – something no other manufacturer currently offers.
Autopilot provides these core features:
Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC)
This feature is similar to what’s often called stop-and-go Adaptive Cruise Control in other cars. It allows you set a speed and following distance to other cars and will then automatically speed up or slow down depending of the speed of the vehicle in front of you. It works at all speeds up to 90 mph and in stop-and-go traffic, including in city streets. It’s a real life-saver during rush-hour commutes on the highway.
Autosteer (Lane Centering)
Once the Autopilot system detects clear lane markings, it will allow the driver to engage Autosteer that works in conjunction with TACC above. This allows the vehicle to steer itself as long as conditions allow and the driver has their hands on the wheel (the driver must still pay attention).
For most people, these two features will be good enough, especially if you commute quite a bit on the freeway in stop-and-go traffic. Next, let’s dig into what the Full Self-Driving option offers.
Full Self-Driving Capabilities
The optional $10,000 Full Self-Driving (FSD) package has all of the items above plus more advanced assisted and semi-autonomous driving capabilities than found in the standard Autopilot features. Note, however, it’s not really Level 5, fully autonomous driving, and still requires driver attention at all times.
Full Self-Driving was a feature long-promised from Tesla since Autopilot was originally introduced years ago. Initially, the notion was that Autopilot features would provide more of the ‘assisted driving’ features such as TACC, automatic steering, summon, etc. whereas Full Self-Driving would provide ‘autonomous’ driving capabilities, similar to Waymo (Google’s self-driving taxis).
However, it soon became clear that true autonomous driving would be years off, so Tesla changed the lineup so that Autopilot contains a more basic set of assisted driving features while ‘Full Self-Driving’ has more advanced capabilities with the promise of future real full self-driving (Level 5).
Navigate On Autopilot
It’s considered fully automated “on-ramp” to “off-ramp” technology and is quite amazing and unlike anything else available for consumer use. It will even automatically suggest changing to faster lanes if it finds traffic moving more quickly in adjacent lanes.
While, in theory, Navigate on Autopilot seems very useful, in practice it isn’t perfect and many people find that the automated lane changes aren’t considerate enough of other traffic (e.g. simply turning on the blinker and waiting until the lane is clear). Other times, it may not take the correct interchange or exit. Overall, it’s a cool feature, but at this point, you’re probably just as well turning on navigational directions and changing lanes yourself.
Auto Lane Changes
While Autosteer and TACC are active, you can have the vehicle change lanes automatically once it’s safe to do so by turning on the blinker towards the desired lane to which you’d like to switch. The vehicle will review the surroundings and make the lane change once it’s safe to do so. This is arguably the valuable feature in the FSD option set as makes lane changes safer, less stressful and allows you to avoid having to disengage and re-engage Autopilot.
The Autopark feature allows the vehicle to automatically park itself in both parallel and perpendicular spots, as long as other cars are nearby. While many auto manufacturers offer something similar, Tesla’s version handles all the steering acceleration and braking, making it truly hands-off. It’s still a bit hit-and-miss, with most people not using very often.
Summon (and Smart Summon)
One of the most unique features offered by Tesla is the Summon function. It allows you to remotely summon the vehicle out of tight parking or garage spaces, for example.
Tesla recently updated Summon to include “Smart Summon”, allowing the vehicle to navigate more complex routes, even summon to you in private parking lots, for example. But again, this is very much a “beta” feature and more of a party trick and most of the time is not at all practical until the cars become better at self-driving.
Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control
The Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control feature allows you to more safely utilize Autopilot, specifically Traffic Aware Cruise Control and/or Autosteer, on city streets or highways where there are traffic controls.
It will automatically stop for stop light and stop signs and resume if safe (right now, if a lead car is ahead of you and moves).
Here’s how it works in this official Tesla video:
Read more about this feature in our Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control article.
Autosteer on City Streets
Autosteer on City Streets is a future feature that promises to provide better Autosteer capabilities on city streets, including turning at intersections and potentially roundabouts. You can see a preview of it in the Full Self-Driving Beta which is a complete rewrite of the system and currently only available to select testers. Given all the challenges and edge cases in urban environments, it’s unclear when Tesla will more broadly release city driving functionality.
Additionally, even when Autosteer on City Streets functionality is released (presumably still in a Beta form for a while), it will require extra vigilance, so it’s not clear that in the next year at best whether that’s helpful or if it’s simply less stressful to drive yourself around the city. We’ll have to wait and see.
Future Autonomous Full Self-Driving Capabilities
Tesla has promised a big Full Self-Driving update (rewrite) that will likely be deployed in mid to late 2021, according to Elon Musk during Tesla’s 2019 Autonomy Day. This update will include the promised ability to navigate and turn on city streets.
Currently, the Full Self-Driving rewrite is in beta (see it here) and currently being tested by a handful of select users.
Ultimately, the vision is that the car should drive almost like this video (which was an actual demonstration during Autonomy Day in 2019):
Elon Musk originally promised Level 5 (see What Do Self-Driving Levels Mean?) capabilities for 2020 and even a Robotaxi service. Most people think that’s far too ambitious even for 2021 and that, in reality, we’ll see more gradual improvements in freeway driving and new city driving features like alerts when a traffic light turns green, handling turns at intersections, etc.
Is Full Self-Driving Worth the Cost?
Ok, so here’s the $10,000 question – is the Full Self-Driving (FSD) package worth the cost? In short, for most people, the answer is currently no. Note that Tesla is expected to provide a subscription service for this in mid-2021, so in that case, it may become a better value.
While stopping at stop signs and traffic lights is useful when driving with Autopilot or Cruise Control on city streets, it’s still fairly rudimentary and requires the driver to acknowledge traffic controls if there are no lead cars in front of you. You still need to pay very close attention to what is going on.
Arguably the most useful feature beyond the standard included Autopilot features, is Auto Lane Change – which makes changing lanes far safer, but that’s a lot of money just for one feature.
The big promise for Full Self-Driving, of course, is that we’ll see more autonomous self-driving features roll out in 2021, according to the Tesla 2019 Autonomy Day summit. Keep in mind, however, that most experts think that’s a stretch we’ll see a real autonomous feature-complete version of Full Self-Driving anytime soon, meaning an attentive driver will always be required; making it more driver assistance than fully autonomous.
That said, there’s no doubt the advanced driver-assistance features will continue to improve in the Full Self-Driving package, like those in the current Beta release, and if getting those updates is important to you, then the package may be worth the price.
- Tesla Full Self Driving Beta Preview
- Autonomous Full Self-Driving Capabilities
- Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Review.
- Tesla Autonomy Day presentation.
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