All cars being produced now have the hardware needed for full autonomy, but the software required to utilise it won’t arrive until 2017

All new Tesla cars are now being equipped with the necessary hardware to enable fully autonomous driving modes.

Tesla now fits its cars with eight surround cameras to provide 360deg visibility around the car of up to 250 metres away. These are accompanied by 12 updated ultrasonic sensors, allowing for detection of both hard and 'soft' objects at nearly twice the distance of the previous system. Additionally, a forward-facing radar that can see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even underneath the car ahead has been added to complete the spectrum of vision.

However, while the hardware is fitted to Model X and Model S cars rolling off the production line now, it can't be fully used until the required software is finished and added to the models' operating systems via over-the-air updates. The system now benefits from 1.3 billion miles of Autopilot testing data.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet last month that the software should make it to production cars in late 2017, meaning we could be a year away from full Autopilot technology, which Tesla claims will enable passengers to travel from New York to Los Angeles without touching the steering wheel.

Tesla is yet to confirm details, but the limited information it has revealed includes that the Autopilot technology, while significantly more effective than the current system, will still largely be limited to operating on highways and multi-lane roads. The new software is likely to mark the most significant step towards a fully autonomous vehicle, though.

Recent software upgrades for current cars

In September, Tesla announced a new over-the-air update for the Model S and Model X's Autopilot software that would reduce crashes involving the vehicles by as much as half.

The new software is part of the v8.0 update and comes with a range of improvements to the Autopilot system, allowing the cars' radar systems to register far more objects than before. "The new software enables the car to initiate braking no matter what the object is – especially if it's large, metallic and dense... It could be a truck crossing the road, a road sign, it could even be a spaceship or a pile of junk metal," said Musk (pictured below).

No additional hardware is required for the v8.0 improvements, so all radar-equipped Model S and Model X cars built in the past two years will benefit from the wirelessly downloadable update. Speaking to Autocar in the late summer, Musk confirmed to Autocar that the update would be applied to models worldwide, including those in the UK.

Once downloaded, the cars will not only recognise more objects on the road, but will also be able to use something Musk calls 'radar echo'. This technology bounces radar off the road and underneath the car in front and then back off objects ahead of that. Musk said: "Now, if the car in front of you suddenly swerves, we've already seen the obstacle in front."

When questioned by Autocar about the reliability of radar echo - if a radar pulse tried to bounce under a very low car directly in front, for example - Musk said: “It would have to be very very low. Even if a car had 6.0in clearance, it should be able to work.” He added that the radar would also try to “bounce around the car and through the glasshouse of the car”.

The system also improves on Autopilot's geocoding functions, flagging up false positives into GPS map data so that in the future, Teslas passing that point will be aware of whatever object it is that caused the previous car's auto-braking alarm. The system also gets better lane detection by downloading geocoded lane widths. It's all part of what Musk calls 'fleet-learning'. 

Interestingly, Musk also revealed: "Autopilot accidents are far more common with expert users; they get very comfortable with the system." To help improve concentration among more laissez-faire Autopilot users, the new software update will force users to park up and restart the car if they choose to ignore three alarms telling them to put their hands back on the steering wheel.

Musk revealed he believes that the Model S and Model X are already the safest cars on the road by quite some margin, but he claims that this update should improve safety by as much as 50%. 

"It's about improving the probability of safety; we have about 160,000 Tesla cars covering billions of miles, so even if it's one in a billion, there won't be zero injuries or zero fatalities," said Musk. He also commented on the recent death of a driver using Autopilot, saying he believes "it is probable" this update would have saved that man's life. 

Musk also confirmed the arrival of a 100kWh battery pack for the Model S and Model X earlier this year, which makes the Model S P100D the quickest accelerating car in the world currently in production. In July, Musk also revealed his 'Masterplan, part two', which unveiled plans for a compact SUV and a pick-up truck.

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Comments
18

31 August 2016
I can't help wondering whether Tesla's progress is little too rapid in this field. Just how many hundreds of millions of test miles have been carried out before "Autopilot 2.0" is unleashed on the public. It seems to me that anyone with a spare £50k or so can effectively become a Tesla test pilot. Even the name "Autopilot" is questionable, since surely the prime requirement is that the driver is fully concentrating and prepared to take over at a fraction of a second's notice if the Autonomous system has a glitch?

31 August 2016
It's one thing to release a new computer operating system to the unsuspecting public and iron out the glitches as they become apparent, but this sounds like a step too far. Says a lot that they now have to offer their own insurance in some markets. I thought insurance companies had to have plenty in the bank which wasn't typed in Red ink !

 Offence can only be taken not given- so give it back!

1 September 2016
I'm pretty sure they haven't had to start their own insurance as no one else would insure them, as otherwise there are 600 odd Tesla's in Australia that are owned by people uninsured. The article was just saying that they wanted to improve on the existing level of cover.

jer

31 August 2016
Pilot that missed the side of a lorry because the sun was shining on it...

12 September 2016
jer wrote:

Pilot that missed the side of a lorry because the sun was shining on it...

...and still has fewer accidents per mile than average.

12 September 2016
Autopilot rather than Autonomouspilot. We all know an automatic gearbox doesn't always get things right. So don't expect Autopilot to either it's mistakes can be more serious. I would be asking does it make driving statistically safer, are you fresher after a long journey and is it a necessary step to get to Autonomous driving.

20 October 2016
Dear Mr Musk. Forget autonomous, falcon doors, glass roofs the size of a greenhouse and provide an £30,000 Q3 size electric vehicle. If you had a basic car which was £8,000 less than the same model car that had radars, autonomous rubbish, falcon doors and a glass roof the latter just wouldn't be economically viable. Walk before you can run.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

20 October 2016
This announcement is very clickbaity. I too feel that Tesla are jumping too far ahead in this field. I think the likes of automatic cruise control, blind spot monitoring are all great advances, but the idea of 'full autonomy' is just waiting for the lazy/show-off drivers to indulge in other activities at the earliest opportunity. Even with a software update in 2017, we are still a long way away from these being commonplace or indeed fully legal.

With the whole notion of autonomous motoring, I've felt more and more as though this solves a problem that isn't really there. Yes, poor drivers definitely are a problem, but little thought has been given as to how these occupy the roads alongside drivers.

I hope we get to a place where people who hold a licence for a more stringent driving test are able to use the roads alongside autonomous vehicles. We do not have enough guarantees for pedestrian safety when it comes to autonomous cars - lots of reports from the likes of Tesla and Mercedes that suggest autonomous cars will make 'decisions' about whether to run over the pedestrians or smash into brick walls to save them but injure their passengers.


"Work hard and be nice to people"

20 October 2016
What I'm reading is something that used to be referred to as futureproofing - a marketing depts wet dream.

"Buy this thing, it has the ability to do xyz, it will be able to connect to all manner of devices in future" etc. This sales ploy has been with us for decades - from cars to our TV's, many which seem to come with user manuals as big as Encyclopedia Britanica. And then when we do come reach for the manual to use that technology in future? Err sorry, it's not compatible, or wrong version, or the world has moved on to newer tech.

So anyone who spends £80k on a car based on the ability to do something next year... more the fool you. Next year Elon Musk will be concentrating on new customers, does anyone really believe Tesla will invest in writing software for older type hardware from customers who've already given them their money?

Where are those apps Sony told me would be available to download on to my smartTV? or that Windows told me would be available on their app store? Why won't Windows 10 recognise the camera on my exiting laptop? etc. etc. etc.

20 October 2016
Tesla is due to defend a court case in December brought by over 100 Norwegian customers who bought an S 85D upon Tesla advertising it produced 691 hp they say that combined hp is not available so want compensation.

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