Electric Cars
Tesla

Your first look at how Tesla’s controversial new touchscreen gear selector works

Updated Model S and Model X guess if you want drive or reverse

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Tesla boss Elon Musk raised eyebrows earlier this year when he said how updated versions of the Model and Model X will "guess drive direction", taking the option to shift between Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive away from the driver.

With the removal of the physical drive selector, Tesla owners are asked to rely on the car's cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence to work out which direction they want to drive. Musk said at the time how there would be a way to manually override the car's decision using the touchscreen, and now we know how this system will work.

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A video published on Twitter by Michael Hsu, but credited to Florida-based Jose Batalla, shows how drive direction is selected using an interface on the touchscreen.

To select reverse, drivers need to press on a car icon then drag it downwards on the touchscreen. Drive is selected by pressing the car and sliding it upwards. An image posted in reply to the video, by Nick Howard, shows how Neutral is found in a sub-menu of the infotainment system. It isn't clear how Park is selected.

Musk said of the system in January: "Car guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context and nav map...After you drive without using a PRND stalk/stick for a few days, it gets very annoying to go back and use a shifter. You can override on a touchscreen."

The industry-standard for an automatic gear shifter is for Reverse to be forwards and Drive to be backwards. Tesla seems to be switching this so that the opposite, and arguably more logical, is true.

It isn't yet clear how the car will show the driver which direction it plans to go. When driven forward into a garage, it seems logical that the car would select reverse when next switched on, given there is a wall in front of it and clear space behind. But for more complex maneuvers like three-point turns or parallel parking, we can't help wondering whether the system will work correctly or not, and if it will learn and improve over time.

It also isn't clear if the touchscreen can be used by a driver wearing gloves, and what happens if the infotainment system crashes. It is claimed a scroller on the steering wheel can also be used to control gear selection, but this hasn't yet been confirmed by Tesla.

This early demonstration of the system has not gone down well with some Tesla owners. One posted on Reddit to say how they don't want the automatic gear selector because, they claim, Tesla's automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers and speed limit detection don't work.

Others asked what was wrong with the gear selector stalk on all previous Tesla cars. One Reddit user called YourCreditor said: "Ultimately I am in charge of piloting a potentially lethal machine, day or night, good weather and bad. Tesla should give me the tools to safely and efficiently operate this machine until I can be fully and reliably be replaced by their [Full Self Driving] computer.

"At that time, take the steering wheel away too...until then, leave the stalks and put the wipers/lights on them where I can operate them without looking away from the road. It's my biggest gripe."

Another added: "Tesla just wants to change things for the sake of changing them. Look at Model 3 wiper controls for example."

The Model 3 doesn't have a stalk for controlling the wipers. They are instead controlled by a touchscreen menu, or can be left to operate automatically. In our experience, the automatic wipers don't always work when required, forcing the driver to look at the touchscreen just as their visibility out the windshield is restricted by rain and spray.

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