The future has arrived… and it’s electric
Robert Celley has been a car enthusiast for most of his life. So, when he brought home a Tesla Model 3, those who know him best weren’t entirely surprised. What surprised them is how the electric vehicle compares to other cars on the road today.
"It’s more fun than any sports car I’ve ever driven, and I’ve driven a lot of sports cars," says Robert with a smile. "The acceleration, the handling, everything about it is over the top."
The Model 3 has been hailed the car of the future. The electric vehicle offers Tesla’s most refined design and engineering, a 310-mile battery range and 0-60 mph acceleration in 3.5 seconds. But for the Celley family, the car is about more than fancy gadgets and fuel savings.
"Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome. With current transportation there is no chance she will ever drive. That’s just the reality of it," says Robert. "The technology that’s in this car completely changes that. As soon as they get everything worked out, the car can be completely autonomous. When you get in the car, you can tell it where you want to go or you can set your phone down, and the car will look at what time it is, what your schedule is for that day and go to that destination."
Self-driving cars, embraced as a stress-reducing convenience for harried drivers and a potential advance in road safety, could prove to be a life-changing breakthrough for the elderly and many people with disabilities, granting them a new measure of independence. But first, the laws need to catch up to the technology.
"The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is very positive about autonomous vehicles, but we want to make sure we are ready for them," says Strategic Innovations Manager Linda Sitz, NDDOT. "That’s why we’re initiating meetings with key stakeholders. We want to be proactive on this. We are preparing for the future."
Sitz says legislation regarding autonomous vehicles could be considered as soon as the 2019 legislative session, and many car manufacturers estimate that fully autonomous vehicles could be on the road as soon as 2020. In the meantime, drivers can enjoy some autonomous features, including self parking and enhanced autopilot technologies.
Think of enhanced autopilot as autonomous cruise control. With two quick taps on the shift lever, the Model 3 takes control of the vehicle, following the roadway and matching speed to traffic conditions. The car will even change lanes at the flick of a blinker – after scanning for possible obstacles, of course. While the driver needs to be prepared to take control, the car can do much of the work. And much like cruise control, the driver can exit enhanced autopilot by the press of a button or by tapping on the brake pedal.
"I freaked my brother out. We got on the interstate up by Stamart in Bismarck. We got all the way to the MVP exit in Mandan, and I never touched the wheel. I never touched the gas pedal," says Robert with a smile. "It’s absolutely crazy. When a car in front of you pulls off, it speeds up. When a car merges, it slows up and lets that car in. If you turn on the blinker, it automatically changes lanes when there is an open spot. It’s ridiculous."
New and improved technologies make it possible for the car to interpret it’s surroundings. Eight cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength that is able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.
"If you look at the test data for the Model 3 and the Model X, you’ll see they’re the safest vehicles on the road. When the autonomous feature of enhanced autopilot was released, the car became 40 percent safer than any other vehicle on the road," says Robert. "The car has accident avoidance. If someone pulls in front of you, it will turn to avoid that accident, but it won’t leave that lane. It doesn’t create a hazard itself."
For the Celley family, these benefits are only the beginning. One day, autonomous technology could help shape their daughter’s world, giving her independence they never dreamed possible.
"As a mother, it scares me," says Robert’s wife, Kim Celley. "But, knowing she could [use an autonomous vehicle] is a good feeling. I don’t know how independent she’ll be in 10 years, but to know that this technology could help her be more independent is a nice feeling."
While the Celley’s aren’t sure what the future holds for their daughter, they are certain about one thing. "She knows she could use the car to go to the beach house," says Kim with a laugh. "Hopefully, she doesn’t ever do that to us or we’ll have to track her down."
Story and Photos by Krista Rausch