LPLE #9: Tesla Model 3 and Automatic, Self-driving Cars

Jesse and Andrew talk about the Tesla Model 3, and Andrew explains how automatic self-driving cars work and why the will become a thing of the future.


Intro [Jesse]: Hi everyone. My name is Jesse Robbins, and welcome to LPLE from Dialogue FM. We're the podcast that lets you practice listening in English. We speak English slowly and clearly so that you can follow along and understand native English speakers more easily. I'm excited to help you improve your English listening skills, as well as help you learn new vocabulary, grammar, and idioms commonly heard and conversation among native English speakers. If you want to practice listening in English, then we invite you to join our conversation.

Jesse: Hi, Andrew.

Andrew: Hey, Jesse.

Jesse: About a month ago, Tesla had made available for pre-order the Model 3.

Andrew: That's right. Their new, smaller car; their smaller electric car that is more affordable so that more people will be able to buy it.

Jesse: That's exciting. It's-... It's big news all around. It's an electric car, and it's also a...

Andrew: ...Autonomous car. It's a car that can at least partially drive itself when you are going from one place to another. So, you don't need to be using the gas and the steering all of the time.

Jesse: Now, we like the idea of having an electric car, but I'm really fascinated with this self-driving aspect. This is brand new technology!

Andrew: It's a big deal. It's never been done before very well, and it's being tested right now on tens of thousands of Teslas that are already out there on the roads, so it is getting better very, very fast.

Jesse: Right now, in Seattle and let's just say the Puget Sound, in general--Redmond, Bellevue, places where there's lots of technology companies...

Andrew: Right.

Jesse: And, when I say that there's places where there's technology companies, I also mean that there is plenty of people with large salaries who can afford self-driving cars right now.

Andrew: Right. We're talking about places in the west coast of America like Seattle and San Francisco where people who are interested in technology--also, have enough money to try products when they're still newer and a little bit more expensive--they are buying Tesla's Model S cars more often than other parts of the country and more often than most of the world. And, so, we are lucky enough to live in a city where there are a lot of Teslas out on the road, and one of the unique things about this car is that after most of the people had bought theirs, the company that made the car sent out an update to the software that runs it, and suddenly these cars that were normal cars powered by electricity suddenly were electric cars that were also able to drive themselves for parts of trips, so highway trips and other long stretches of road that were well-marked.

Jesse: Overnight, people who owned that car received a self-driving car.

Andrew: That's right. It's like getting an update to the software on your phone, only this is happening to the car that's parked in your garage. On Tuesday, you drive to work like a normal person having to control the steering wheel and the gas and the turn signals, and you come home, you park it, you get up the next day, and suddenly your car can drive itself to work while you keep an eye on it to make sure that everything's going well.

Jesse: Is it safe to say that currently on our roads right now there are self-driving cars?

Andrew: Yes, almost every day on freeways and highways across America and probably parts of Europe and Asia, as well. The cars don't need a map to follow, they can just use the GPS that's built in, and they look at the actual road that they're on to determine where lanes are, and they use radar and sonar to figure out where other cars are. So, they're actually driving in reaction to the vehicles around them. That means that when cars in front of you slow down and go lower than the speed limit, your car sees them slowing down and slows down, as well. If you want to change lanes, you put on the turn signal and then the car looks to make sure that there is space, and then accelerates and turns the wheel automatically to move into the new lane. You're not touching the gas-... the gas pedal, you're not touching the steering wheel; the car does all of this by itself.

Jesse: Now that there are self-driving cars on the road right now, are people actually using that feature, or have people become comfortable with the idea of letting their car do the driving for them?

Andrew: That's a good question. I think-... I think some people are ready to trust the vehicles and other people are going to take some time to get used to the idea, because this is the first time that this has been possible on a normal roadway. And, I think that most people feel like driving on the road, especially at high speed like on a highway, is a dangerous task or one that is unpredictable, because people could move in front of you and cut you off, they could slow down really fast if there's a traffic jam, you might need to change lanes and try to find a gap that is big enough for your car to fit in, and all of these things are actually quite hard for humans to do driving behind the wheel. And, so, the idea that they would trust a computer in their car to do it for them is really uncertain and unsettling for them.

But, actually, what their finding with all of this testing is that the computer is actually paying closer attention than you could to what's going on on the road around you. So, when someone stops suddenly in front of you it might take you half of a second to find out that it's happening, and then another quarter of a second to react and put your foot on the brake; the computer can see that and hit the brakes immediately. And, so, it's actually much safer to allow the computers to make these decisions for you.

Jesse: So, the Model 3 is going to now have the feature of automated driving.

Andrew: That's right. So, right now the vehicles on the road that can do this are mainly from the Tesla car company, and they're mainly in the Model S, which is their luxury vehicle. It costs a lot of money, it's about $70- or $80,000 US to buy new. And, so, only the more wealthy people in our city have them, and we just see them on the road when people are commuting. The new vehicle, the Model 3, is going to be about one-third of that price, it's going to be about $35,000 to buy one of these cars, which is coming out in a couple of years; but, the automatic driving part of the car--those features which they call "autopilot"--are going to be available no matter what on all of those vehicles. So, suddenly, in 2019 or so, they're going to be a lot more of these cars out on the road than there are now, all driving themselves and reacting to traffic and other vehicles on their own.

Jesse: That makes me really excited considering after work, for example, I'm mentally exhausted, so the idea of getting in my car, and then letting the car drive for me to take me home, or to take me to my friend's house or, to come hang out at a bar is really nice because I can just get in the car, turn off my brain, relax, take a nap-... Would you say that's recommended, or should I, as the driver sitting in the driver's seat, still be alert and still need to take control over the car.

Andrew: Right now, it's important that drivers in these automatic vehicles be paying attention, and sitting in the driver's seat, and be ready to take over in case something goes wrong. Right now, the cars that are driving automatically can keep track of the road when the road is predictable, when the lines are clear between the lanes, and when the routes are well marked. But, when things get complicated in neighborhood streets, at slower speeds, when there are lots of pedestrians around, and when there might be something unexpected like construction or pedestrians walking across the street, the cars are worse at noticing and reacting to those situations. Usually, they are playing it safe, and, so, they will stop and refuse to move so that they don't hit something, so it's not like they're going to run over a small child crossing the street. But, that means that the cars are most automatic when they are on the freeway taking long drives. So, it's not a good idea to fall asleep at the wheel just yet; that might be more of an option in the future. Right now, think of it as a fancy form of cruise control: You set your speed, you set your destination, you let the car take you there, and it will react to traffic and move into lanes when you want it to, and you don't need to pay attention to traffic slowing ahead, but you still need to be awake, and you need to be ready to take over the wheel in case something happens that the car doesn't know what to do with.

This is just a preview of what's to come, though, because these autopilot cars have only been around for less than two years, and they're already out there driving on the freeways in large numbers. They're getting better all the time, and in the very near future we're going to have a lot of cars on the road that don't need us to help him get around; and that's going to be a very exciting time.

Jesse: We are truly living in the future.

Outro [Jesse]: Thank you for listening to this episode of LPLE, Let's Practice Listening in English, from Dialog.FM. Subscribe to LPLE on iTunes to hear the latest episodes, or listen to past episodes on our website, Dialog.FM. That's d-i-a-l-o-g-dot-f-m. If you have questions or comments about English, or if you would like for us to use a word, grammar, or idiom in our conversation so you can learn how to use it correctly, we would love to hear from you on Twitter at @dialogdotfm or Facebook at