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We sipped the self-driving kool-aid

Drivr co-founder (and all around car nut) Nikolaj Køster took a Tesla Model 3 for a 2,500 km weekend spin to try out Autopilot 7.0, and get a glimpse of what the future of mobility looks like. Check out the two-minute video here. 

Let me start by saying this: The purpose of this post is to explore self-driving cars as a consumer, and not to do a thorough road test and feature analysis of Tesla’s Autopilot software 7.0. So bear with me when I talk feelings and thoughts more than data and diagrams.

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For this trip I borrowed a face-lifted Model S with 800 km on the clock from Tesla Denmark. I convinced my car nut brother and dad (not that hard) to spend a weekend with me in the car. To add some sort of purpose to the trip we decided to go see 175 Germans race 500BHp race cars up a 2 km paved mountain road – aka the 2016 FiA Mickhausen Bergrennen. It was also a great excuse to eat a whole bunch of Jägerart Schnitzels. Mickhausen is about 1,200 km from Copenhagen, with a total driving time of 25 hours. We’d get a one night of sleep and four hours of watching the race action, then we’d head back.

How it all started

I have always been a huge car fan. My first car was an utterly impractical but massively fun 1975 Alfa Romeo Bertone in a race car trim.
It was pretty far from self-driving: Let go of the wheel on a highway and the wheel camber would track the grooves in the road making the car jump all over the place. But I loved it. I once got pulled over (literally only doing 80 km/h on a Norwegian highway) and the first thing the officer said was “I love the noise that thing is making”. I did too!

Tell me about that Tesla

Back to the Tesla on Autopilot. What’s it like? Utterly mind blowing. Being in the driver’s seat while on Instagram at 150 km an hour on a highway is crazy. It feels so wrong (and it is sort of wrong). Yet even if you only take your eyes off the road for a few seconds, it’s insane how (relatively) safe it is to do so. On a good clear day, with no rain and with well-painted stripes, the Tesla drives like a train on rails. It’s an absolutely mesmerising experience, and powering through Germany like this gives you a glimpse of what the future holds. Within a few years I’ll be able to flip my seat around at 150 km/h to face my friends or family sat on the rear seats. Imagine the possibilities: we could work, play games, watch Westworld season 3 – all while being a lot safer. Commuting will suddenly become relaxing, fun and productive.

Trying out Autopilot is very similar to the first time I held a mobile phone in my hand. That eerie feeling that you are on the bleeding edge of something big, yet realising that the big bulky Sony Ericsson against your ear is no way ready for the masses.

So what doesn’t work in the Tesla with Autopilot? Well, German B roads have a speed limit of 100 km/h so we had a couple of scares seeing if the Tesla would actually brake or take the roundabout at that speed. It didn’t brake. Not once. But that doesn’t matter, as it’s not supposed to. Tesla is not pitching this as a self-driving car. Autopilot in 7.0 form is for assistance on highways only. But the thing is, for a few minutes here and there it feels and acts like a self-driving car from the future. Driving back to Denmark on the autobahn looking out the Tesla windows at all the other drivers in their petrol-powered manual cars, I kept on thinking to myself…these people have no idea how the world of mobility will change. But it will. For the better.

Drivr, Spiri, and the future of mobility

Where does Drivr fit in this story? Well, Drivr is powering the dispatch software side of Spiri, the Scandinavian startup launching a truly unique on-demand service with a bespoke electric vehicle built specifically for urban transport.

The first prototype was recently unveiled and it is completely rethinking what a car should be like with a weight of just 750 kg, a composite body, a huge cabin space and a complete absence of car luxury bling. As BBC Auto said “Spiri is thinking about carpooling at its most elemental level. What does a vehicle actually need to look like to most comfortably and effectively haul multiple people at once?” The apps for the Spiri users, dispatch software and algorithms matching the passengers, are all done by Drivr. And when Spiri rolls out their first self-driving vehicles, the software that decides which Spiri picks you up will be powered by Drivr.

Why is autonomous driving so hyped?

Self-driving is the new holy grail: Replace conventional cars with self-driving cars in a city, and we’ll reclaim our streets for leisure and people. The benefits for the environment are obvious and hugely important: It’s not enough to just electrify cars, we also need to get more people into each car to remove congestion. A recent OECD study looked at what would happen if an average European city had self-driving taxis: it showed that 9 out of 10 cars could be removed from the roads and parking areas equivalent to 220 football fields could be reclaimed.

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There’s a race to get towards self-driving level 5 with Google, Uber, the big OEM car companies and a crop of excellent technology companies like Delphi, Nvidia and Qamcom all battling it out. In the Tesla world, on September 27, Elon Musk announced that all cars will now be delivered with level 5 hardware and showed a 3-minute video of a Tesla Model X following a route and finally parking itself. It’s impressive stuff.

Drivr and Spiri are deeply involved in this race to provide the most amazing self-driving on-demand service. We’re in for a great ride. Put aside the commercials and which companies will come out on top, the biggest winner in this titanic battle are the end users and the planet.

Stay tuned by following Drivr on Facebook and Twitter, as well as Spiri on Facebook and Twitter.

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