How it Works: Tesla's Autopilot Self-Driving Automobile Technology

By Megan Tung

Tesla's Autopilot From home to destination, Tesla's enhanced Autopilot adds a new experience to self-driving vehicles. With 40X more processing power and advanced sensor technology, Tesla makes way for the future of driving.

Tesla's features making autopilot possible:

  • A forward-facing radar
  • Cameras
  • Cameras provide visibility up to 250 meters away
  • A high-precision digitally-controlled electric assist braking system
  • 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors around the car
  • These sensors can be affected if there is debris covering them
  • Sense everything within 16 feet away from the vehicle

Tesla's Autopilot Self-Driving
Forward-facing radar
Tesla's Autopilot Self-Driving Ultrasonic Sensors
Ultrasonic sensors around the car

Cruise Control

The radar and forward-facing cameras track the position of cars ahead and adjust the Tesla’s speed accordingly. This feature maintains a safe distance between you and the car in front. The distance between the cars depends on the speed both cars are traveling. If a car merges into your lane, the Tesla will monitor its position and reduce speed if necessary. The Tesla will not panic and slam on the brakes if a car merges in your lane and accelerates.


The autosteer function lets the Tesla stay centered in a lane, change lanes, and self-park. To keep the Tesla centered, the cameras around the car track the positioning of road markings and the sensors monitor other cars on the road to keep a safe distance. For the Tesla to change lanes, the driver manually indicates the turn signal, then the sensors prevent the Tesla from merging into other cars. To self-park in parallel and perpendicular positions the car uses both the sensors and cameras to avoid hitting any surroundings.

The autopilot feature does not work well when the road markings are not clear and/or when the car is traveling under 20 mph. This feature is not recommended to use in residential zones where there are street lights and stop signs. The driver still needs to pay attention and keep their hands on the wheel. If the wheel does not sense the driver's hands, it will visually and audibly alert the driver to take control. If the driver still does not put their hands on the wheel, the car will start to safely slow itself until either the car fully stops or the driver takes control.

The Tesla only aids drivers, it is not able to fully autonomously drive itself. However, a newer feature in the Tesla is able to enter or exit parking spots without a driver in the vehicle. This feature is handy when it is a tight squeeze between your parked car and the car/wall/bush next to your car, making it hard to enter/exit your car once parked. There is also a summon feature that allows the owner to walk out their front door and summon their car, meaning the Tesla will open the garage door, pull out, and come to “greet” you. For now, the summon feature can only be used while on private property. If the Tesla is parking without the driver in the vehicle it can only move in forward/backward motions, it cannot make turns, yet.
Megan Tung is a summer intern at Jameco Electronics and a rising freshman at UC Santa Barbara. Her interests include photography, music, business, and engineering.