Shifter-less Tesla Model S now decides which way it wants to go

Tesla’s reveal of the stalk-less Model S steering wheel had us wondering how you pick a gear

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On the back of the Tesla Model S saloon facelift, the company's boss has explained the reason behind the apparent lack of controls for forward and reverse functions.

Elon Musk has explained that the 2022 Tesla Model S will, in fact, 'shift gears' by itself by guessing the direction its occupant wants to go.

The question was posed to the Tesla founder on Twitter after a stalk-less yoke steering wheel was shown as part of the 2022 Tesla Model S facelift. 

Asked how the driver is supposed to engage Drive and Reverse gears without a stalk (the method used in its predecessors), Musk responded “[the] car guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context & nav map."

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Musk did follow up by saying that you can override the transmission controls on the centre touchscreen, though this won’t be the default method of changing drive direction.

Presumably a section of the screen is dedicated to controlling direction, or there’s a pop-up as soon as the car is stationary.

Addressing concerns over how well the car could decide which direction it should head, Musk was adamant that the new system is the way forward.

“After you drive without using a PRND stalk/stick for a few days, it gets very annoying to go back & use a shifter,” he added. 

Both the Model S and Model X will receive this new capability, doing away with the Mercedes-Benz-sourced gear selectors of their predecessors.

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While it sounds far-fetched and fraught with complication, Tesla seems to think its new system will choose Drive or Reverse correctly.

However, override notwithstanding, it could choose the wrong gear and become a potential danger to other motorists, pedestrians or even its own occupants.

It’s unclear how compliant the new method is with design laws. Autoblog investigated the design’s legality in the United States’ federal regulations and found there’s no clause barring Tesla from selling a car with such systems.

In Australia, cars are required to adhere to Australian Design Rules (ADRs), which lay out the manner in which vehicle systems operate. For example, Tesla may come across a drama whereby the Model S's gear indication needs to always be visible to a driver, or even in the construction of the abbreviated steering wheel.

Electric gear shifters are common today, though this feels like a further step forward into uncharted territory.

Will the car’s sensors get it right, time after time? Will it continue to function without fault 20 years into the future? Who’s at fault if a crash occurs as a result of an incorrect Drive/Reverse selection?

We’ll have to wait and see how well the new shifter performs in practice.

 

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