I drove the car of the future. I drove a Tesla! (Rajesh Bhartiya, CEO – ProtoTech Solutions)
I was in the US a few weeks back for COFES (Congress on Future of Engineering Software) and had a good taste of the future on quite a different front. This is when my friend who picked me up at the airport showed up in a Tesla (for those who are still living in the past, like I was, this is the car of the future). While the exterior of the car is fairly toned down (as if to deliberately be humble), I stood awestruck with it’s futuristic interiors and esp. a large touch screen device which almost seemed to edge out the steering wheel. After acknowledging my initial reaction (as if he saw it coming) with a mischievous smile, he offered me a drive this car which I couldn’t refuse. I plopped myself in the driver’s seat which felt more like a cockpit. I put my hands out seeking the keys, but my friend asked me to simply go ahead and drive. No key holes to struggle with, and in fact, there is no start button either. Next, my hand instinctively went for parking brake – it was no where to be found. And next was the gear shift lever, gone.
I have been driving for over two decades now and driven many different cars. Believe me, I have never felt so novice behind the wheels yet.
Finally, I was told to forget all that and just go at the gas pedal (or should I say power pedal because there is no gas anymore). As I lifted my foot off the brake pedal, I expected the car to move by itself. All the automatic cars do this – called ‘auto creep’. But Tesla didn’t budge. My friend quickly realized the problem and changed the driver profile to ‘guest’. I love profiles since I had my first Nokia cell phone. I had never imagined a car to have different driver profiles, tens of customized settings and then switching profiles on the fly. Anyway, I got my ‘creep’ back and gained some sense of control. A few meters ahead as I started to move out of parking lot, I had to slow down for a crossing. I lifted my foot off the gas pedal and before I instinctively switched to press the brake, Tesla dragged down to dead slow. No momentum? The regenerative braking kicks in a whole lot faster.
It made Tesla so responsive that I felt like I was controlling a car in a video game than reality. BTW, this is also a setting so I can turn it back to the cars of the past.
On the freeway, I set it to cruise at 75 mph. At one point, I felt like overtaking the car ahead and I turned on the indicators. Before I pressed the gas pedal again to get that slight boost to switch the lane, Tesla roared and got me into another lane as if it was fully aware of my intentions in real time. My friend then decided to engage the auto-pilot. I did that and lo and behold, the car just took over – as if it had not done that already. I could take my hands off, loosen my stiff neck and posture, be a more relaxed, look around a bit, make eye contact with my co-passengers when talking.
Every mile I was greeted with a surprising new feature. To top it was this. We reached home and my friend did something (spake Tesla language?) and Tesla parked itself in the garage – including opening the garage door. How cool is this!
Next day I left my friend’s place and flew to Arizona for COFES. As I was driving my rental car (regular automatic car!)from the airport in the morning, I wondered whether I really drove Tesla or was it one of those dreams which I got after watching a sci-fi movie. In that moment, I received a call from the same friend of mine and I knew that it wasn’t a dream. Tesla does seem to behave like an extension of your body (remember those robots in Matrix-3?). And not only that, it does get in your mind to – literally!