Originally published on CleanTechnica
New smartphone app Co-pilot for Tesla* aims to leverage crowdsourced data to fill in the safety gaps in Tesla’s current autopilot solution.
Where did the idea for Tesla Co-pilot come from?
The idea for Co-pilot for Tesla app came about as a result of founder Jeff’s experiences using Autopilot in his Tesla. He loved the convenience of using Autopilot / auto-steer and was hooked on using it. A few weeks into using Autopilot, however, he had a few close calls with it around town where it responded inappropriately to temporary traffic flow changes that could have ended terribly. The near misses with Autopilot scared him to the point where he was not comfortable using it for quite a few months which kickstarted an innovative period for him.
Jeff’s experiences are not isolated, with many users in the Tesla Motors Club forums posting similar experiences with Autopilot. Consumer Reports even went so far as to demand that Tesla make sweeping changes to Autopilot in response to a fatality that occurred while a driver was using the system.
While taking time away from Autopilot, Jeff started thinking about what could be done to fix the times when Autopilot misreads, misinterprets or fails to react to a situation in such a way that it results in a dangerous situation. Autopilot asking a driver to take the wheel on very short notice in the middle of a complicated traffic situation does not ensure that the situation will end well.
Jeff saw the potential in Autopilot and had an idea about how he could take it to the next level. After months of working through a few options, he created the solution in the form of a smartphone app he called “Co-pilot for Tesla.”
What is the Co-pilot app?
Co-pilot for Tesla is a crowdsourced, GPS-powered app that allows users to flag areas where the Tesla Autopilot system has failed for them. These alerts allow users to take control of the vehicle or at least closely monitor the situation to confirm their vehicle handles the potentially risky situation appropriately. With the downside of an Autopilot fail having the potential to be a life-altering event, advance warning of the locations where the system has failed can literally be a lifesaver.
Users can opt to simply sit on the receiving end of the app and take advantage of the alerts or to actively contribute to the app and enter the instances where autopilot has failed for them. Importantly, the ability for the solution to gather vast amounts of user-generated, real-life data about Autopilot system bugs has the potential to drive improvements in the system with Tesla as well as just provide data to Autopilot users.
How does the Co-pilot app work?
The fundamentals of the app, predictably, make use of the crowdsourced user data combined with the GPS location from the smartphone, but it does much more than that to achieve a higher degree of accuracy and functionality.
The app starts with a solid underpinning of map layers that it merges with crowdsourced insights as the foundational components of the app’s intelligence. To intelligently create Autopilot events, the app utilizes the mic on the smartphone to detect when Autopilot is turned on or off by recognizing the engage/disengage chimes.
It is worth mentioning that the audio from the mic is not sent to the cloud nor is it stored. It simply listens for the Autopilot on/off tones and triggers the start and end of Autopilot events accordingly. In the event that the start or end of a trip is missed, Co-pilot intelligently determines which portions of the trip are valid, if any.
Co-pilot kicks that up to the next level by connecting to the user’s myTesla account, which enables it to pull vehicle data directly from the Tesla Application Program Interface (API). The Tesla API is essentially a way for the app to listen to and talk back to the car using specific predetermined commands.
What can Co-pilot do today?
Today, Co-pilot provides alerts to users for known risky areas based on crowdsourced data from other users. The alerts are overlaid on a map showing the roads in the area where other users are using Autopilot to help users see which routes have fewer issues than others.
Users can also enter their own alerts to contribute to the pool, making the app function better for everyone. It works like unpaid Amazon reviews where the more alerts a single area gets, the higher the likelihood that all users will experience issues in the area. Conversely, one-off alerts can then also be identified and dismissed.
Because Co-pilot has access to data from the car through the Tesla API, it is also able to compile statistics for all trips in the vehicle. From these trips, the app automagically creates detailed charts with all the data for each including route information (distance, time, route), autosteer info, energy consumption, and battery charge. Additional graphs are displayed when swiped for battery range level, a graph showing speed, and a graph showing elevation.
How can I get my hands on Co-pilot?
Co-pilot for Tesla is available for iOS devices today for free. Just click the App Store Download button below to pull it up. The Co-pilot team is working on an Android version for release in the near future. For more information about the app and to stay apprised of its progress, head over to the Co-pilot website or email your questions, concerns, or excitement to Jeff directly.
*This post was featured on CleanTechnica as a sponsored article.