Tesla’s Autopilot nearly ready to recognize traffic lights

Tesla's Autopilot feature was on during a 2018 crash according to the NTSB.
Image: YouTube | Tesla

Autonomous driving appears to be at least part of the future of transportation. Some argue that, eventually, self-driving cars will be more numerous on the roads than those with human drivers. Although that reality is a long time away, innovations like Tesla’s Autopilot make it feel a little closer.

The company has been promising that its Full Self-Driving Capability (FSD) feature will include the ability to identify and respond to traffic lights and stop signs sometime this year. According to a new video that shows a Tesla Model 3 stopping autonomously at a red light, that capability may be arriving sooner than later.

Red Light Means Stop

Learning to navigate traffic lights is something that every driver learns early on in their training. Even kids know that red means stop and green means go. The verdict is still out on yellow.

In all seriousness, Tesla’s integration of traffic light recognition into its FSD software is a huge step forward. If cars are to ever be autonomous, their ability to react to traffic signals will be crucial. Moreover, that ability needs to be flawless.

A video from Twitter user Out of Spec Motoring shows the feature in action as a Tesla Model 3 cruises along some city roads.

The driver is seen tapping the gas pedal to start the car after the first traffic light turns green. A red line of the Tesla’s in-car display slowly fades as it passes through the intersection.

The Tesla then travels autonomously through several green lights before identifying a red one and slowing to a stop. Out of Spec Motoring also notes that the Model 3 is able to stop autonomously in response to stop signs. That capability isn’t shown in the video.

It isn’t clear who the driver is and why the feature is available in their car. However, it does suggest that Tesla’s traffic light recognition system is almost ready for the real world.

Some are already speculating that the electric carmaker plans to roll out the capability in the next Autopilot update.

Increasing Independence

Tesla’s Autopilot feature is already extremely impressive. It has been able to recognize other cars on the road for some time now. However, it never gets any less mesmerizing to see it happen in real-time on the car’s display.

Last fall, Tesla rolled out a feature giving its cars the ability to spot obstacles like traffic cones, garbage cans, and even identify handicap parking spaces based on the road markings. Autopilot’s Navigate mode allows the car to autonomously plan lane changes in response to these obstacles.

Although Tesla’s new Autopilot features are certainly impressive, it’s important to remember that this is extremely new technology. Several organizations and individuals have claimed that Autopilot isn’t fully safe. The National Transportation Safety Board even cited the self-driving software as a contributing factor to at least one fatal crash.

With that being said, it’s also worth noting that thousands of people die every day in car crashes caused by careless human drivers. Once the technology reaches its peak, self-driving cars will almost certainly be safer than a human-driven ones.

Although that time won’t arrive for several years, Telsa’s ambitious attitude with features like stoplight recognition will not only speed up the self-driving timeline but make it safer in the process. As the fleet of Tesla cars starts recognizing stoplights and sends back data, the feature will continue to get better.

Hopefully, Tesla owners will receive the new capability soon via an update.


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