Navigating Paris’ chaotic streets requires a high level of attentiveness to avoid colliding with another car, a herd of scooters, a pedestrian, or a garbage truck. It’s a grueling test for semiautonomous driving technology developed primarily to operate on highways with clearly marked lanes. Footage posted on YouTube shows how a Tesla equipped with Autopilot sees and analyzes the world around it as it drives through the city of lights.
As you tour through Paris, your eyes inevitably wander from building to building, checking out the Hausmann-era architecture. You look at fountains, monuments, and the occasional supercar blasting by the other way. The Tesla couldn’t care less about the shape of a roof or a V12-powered Lamborghini. Its cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and radars stay firmly focused on the road ahead and, importantly, on the not-insignificant number of pedestrians that cross the road. Autopilot knows the difference between cars, bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians. It can also tell drivable space and non-drivable space apart; that’s how it knows not to drive on the sidewalk or over a roundabout. It even identifies traffic cones.
The system monitors the speed and location of the cars around it. It records whether a car is in its lane or in the one next to it, and it monitors the speed of each vehicle in real time. That’s helpful in a big city like Paris; Tesla’s Autopilot system can, in theory, keep track of more cars than a human because it can look everywhere at once. It’s like if you had additional pairs of eyes on both sides and on the back of your head. The video also shows Autopilot doesn’t need lane markings to find its way around a city.
There are times where the system isn’t nearly as accurate as a human, however. The Tesla qualifies a garbage container as a parked truck 2:23 into the video. Fast-forward to 5:52 and you’ll see it mistakenly identifies an advertising poster on a light pole as a pedestrian waiting to cross the street. And, at 14:00, Autopilot didn’t detect a Renault Megane that made a last-minute right turn in front of the Tesla. These examples illustrate Autopilot doesn’t turn a Tesla into a self-driving car; it’s a semiautonomous system at best.
If you like seeing Paris through the eyes of a car, take a break to watch the cult 1976 short film C’etait un Rendez-Vous. It’s the opposite of the Tesla video above: It shows a motorist speeding through the streets of Paris at dawn, often pulling off less-than-legal stunts to keep moving.