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A Tesla in Iran: First Driverless Car Experience
A Tesla in Iran: First Driverless Car Experience

A Tesla in Iran: First Driverless Car Experience

A Tesla in Iran: First Driverless Car Experience

A Swiss couple Magdalena and Benedikt, traveling across Europe and West Asia, are attempting to demonstrate that electric cars are a viable alternative to gasoline-fuelled vehicles.

With that in mind earlier this week, they arrived in Tehran to promote the concept of non-polluting driving, and where top auto companies like Iran Khodro may hopefully one day venture into in terms of their technology.

Two journalists from the local automotive blogging website Asbe Bokhar met with the husband and wife team while they were on the Iran-leg of their trip, and got to use the Tesla Model S 85 (85 kWh) in the Shahrak Qarb neighborhood of the capital city.

The area was an ideal location to test the vehicle. Designed in the early 1970s it has large boulevards and plenty of space for drivers.

Tesla as one of the first all-electric car companies also has bigger plans to reduce the accident rate on the world's roads. The firm's in-house technology called 'Auto-Pilot' allows drivers to hand over command of the vehicle to a prescient artificial intelligence within the car's dashboard – albeit when the road is suitable with road markings.

The two local automotive journalists, Mohammad Mehdi Tafazoli and Hossein Delavar, had the chance to try out the technology which is the first recorded evidence of a driverless car on Iranian roads. It also threw up some interesting outcomes.

Problems of Driverless Technology

In the first part of the video released by the website, the duo are taught how to enact the AI Auto-Pilot which at first is able to detect the driving conditions, including the raft of locally produced cars and motorcycles in the vicinity of the Tesla as well as the road markings on the stretch of road used.

It also showed a stop-light signal at the junction and came to a gentle halt about three meters from the car on its left-hand side. Questions from Financial Tribune to the car enthusiasts revealed the Tesla moved when the light turned green and at the same pace of the locally assembled Kia Pride next to it.

However, the vehicle also had problems while on auto-pilot on the wide boulevard. One of the biggest issues that appeared from the test was the haphazard road markings which forced the Tesla to revert back to the pilot mode – starting the journalist behind the steering who had to quickly grab the wheel.

Iranian motorcycles also seem to be a problem with regards to the car being able to remain in the driverless mode; in one scene of the video, the car begins to swerve left and right trying to avoid a motorbike rider who was driving in front of the vehicle. Bike riders in Iran are notorious for ignoring the rules and often ride on the lane markings. In this instance, the car could no longer remain in the automatic mode.

In another scene, the car is seen speeding up in little over five seconds to keep an average distance with the cars around it. However, again, driving conditions in overcrowded cities like Tehran are likely to cause problems for AI-led vehicles as people often drive erratically.

However, in Iran, we may be a long way off from seeing this technology, as companies like Renault are removing their driving assistance technology from cars like the Talisman before it enters the Iranian market, according to Asbe Bokhar, while testing the Tesla.

No Teslas Coming to Iran

Tesla in Tehran

Unfortunately, under current regulations, all cars produced in the US even if they are from other firms like Honda and BMW are banned from being registered in Iran due to the ongoing hostility between the two countries.

However, other global car companies, seeing the Tesla challenge to their supremacy, have also begun developing their own versions of auto-pilot and are actively implementing these in several countries.

China's BYD is the first foreign car company actively selling an electric-only car in Iran. Called the E6, the vehicle is believed to be able to reach 400km on a single charge and costs 1.38 billion rials ($37,000), according to car.ir's latest prices. However, unlike the Tesla, that car does not come with auto-pilot-like features.

Charging Electric Cars in Iran

According to Magdalena and Benedikt's website, they are currently in the holy city of Qom showing local residents the benefits of all-electric car technology, but according to their own blog, eexplorer.life, charging the Tesla outside Western Europe has been tricky with no standardized charging stations. But with their set of three-phase capable charging cables, they have used everything from an Armenian monastery to an Iranian workshop to find the right amount of energy to give the car its fast charge for around 150 kilometers of range.

Meanwhile, in recent years, Iran Khodro did sign an agreement with LG Chem, the automotive battery subsidiary of South Korea's LG, but further details of that potential deal have been fleeting since 2016. 

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