My grandfather had a very specific sense of humor. One of my earliest memories, for example, is riding in the back seat of his boat-sized 1985 Pontiac Parisienne. We're drifting down the highway when he tells me that the car can drive itself. Of course I don't believe him, but before I can call him out, he lifts his foot off the pedal and says, "See?"
The car doesn't slow down like my young mind thinks it should. I'm too young to know what cruise control is, and also susceptible to his clever misdirection — pointing to the gas pedal made me miss that he's still guiding the car with his hand to make sure it stays straight. So, like always, he gets me. For that trip and a few subsequent ones, I believe my grandfather's car possesses some sort of automotive magic.
These days we hear a lot about self-driving cars, but to most of us the technology still seems like magic, like someone must be using their knee or concealed hand to guide the car along the road. I haven't had the chance to sit in the driver's seat of one, but I've ridden in the passenger seat of an autonomous big rig and there's definitely something spooky about it.
That's why this grandmother you see in the video above is so completely relatable. Her reaction to being plopped down in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S that's equipped with the company's Autopilot software is, at the very least, the same sort of inner monologue that will run through each of our heads the first time we get to experience a car with autonomous capabilities. (It's also a reminder that, as cool as the technology is, it might not be ready for us dumb humans.)
Don't laugh — you'd probably react the same way
Surely many of us will react the same way externally, too; cursing loudly while our eyes jump between the road, the wheel, and the dashboard as we try to figure out just how the hell we haven't died.
It's not until the grandmother says "oh geez, this is my first day out, and I'm about to die," that an unseen antagonist — her son in the passenger seat — disables Autopilot by grabbing the wheel and telling her to apply the brakes. Nice kid.
My grandmother has spent the better part of the last year in and out of the hospital for a number of maladies, some more serious than others. The worst was a hip replacement, which sapped her energy and restricted her movement. It sucks — she was always a live wire. I don't think I've ever seen her sit still for more than five minutes at a time, which made her the perfect compliment to my grandfather, if only because she was always ready and willing to (lovingly) call him out on his hijinks. She saw through the magic.
Before every trip home now I find myself hoping that she's feeling well enough to regain some of that energy. I wonder what she would think if I put her in the driver's seat of a Model S and switched on Autopilot. My guess is she'd look right at me with her big smile and ask me how it was working. In between curses, of course.
Tesla Autopilot: Letting your Tesla drive itself is a bad idea