Elon Musk announces Autopilot in version 7.0 of the Model S's software - and says a fully autonomous vehicle should be ready within three years
14 October 2015

Tesla is rolling out a new level of autonomous driving on many of its Model S vehicles, as part of the latest update to version 7.0 of the car’s software.

The technology, which has been in testing for over a year in most markets where the Model S is sold, will be made available overnight to around 60,000 Model S cars built since last September and fitted with the ultrasonic sensors and forward-facing camera required for the system to work. Called Autopilot, it is designed primarily for motorway use, where it can switch between lanes without any direct steering input from the driver and react to traffic flow.

Tesla describes this generation of the software as “a public beta” and says that recognition of traffic lights and Stop signs will only come with the next update of the software. It is also recommending that customers keep their hands on the wheel.

The system uses four data sources - ultrasonic sensors right around the vehicle, a forward-facing camera that can read most road signs, forward radar that can see through fog, rain and snow, and what Tesla describes as “high-precision digital maps” that include pooled data on the number of lanes, curvature of the roads and even parking lots, all supplied by existing Model S usage.

The move was announced by Tesla boss Elon Musk at a press conference in the United States. He admitted that it was an early version of the technology, but said that Tesla’s connected network of vehicles would allow it to make rapid progress.

“We still think of this as a public beta,” he said, “so we want people to be quite careful with it at first. But it learns over time. The network of vehicles is constantly learning and as we release the software and more people enable Autopilot, the information about how to drive is uploaded to the network. Each driver is, in effect, an expert trainer in how the Autopilot should work. It’s a combination of a variety of systems and this can only really be done as a connected vehicle.”

Musk said that with its current levels of capability, the system would be best suited to well-marked roads and dense-traffic situations - but suggested that it could eventually gain enough autonomy to do away with conventional driving controls altogether. “It tends to work better in places where there are clear markings; it works best where the infrastructure is good,” he said.

“It’s a real boon in high-traffic situations. If you’re in slow-moving gridlock traffic, turn on Autopilot and it works really well - almost to the point where you can take your hands off the wheel. I won’t say to do that, but some people may.”

He stressed that owners will still be liable for any accidents that are caused by a Model S travelling with Autopilot, and added that users should “exercise caution at this early stage”. “It should not hit pedestrians, hopefully,” he said. “It does sense pedestrians; it can see them. It can also see cyclists, so it should brake before hitting them. It should handle them well. But the instructions say to pay attention to the surroundings and be ready to take the wheel at any time.”

Version 7.0 of the software will also add side collision avoidance to the Model S; the steering wheel will have extra resistance if the driver is trying to move across into another vehicle. Musk also confirmed that version 7.1 will enable the Model S to drive along private driveways, park itself and close the garage door.

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Cars built without the required sensors will not be able to have the system retrofitted, due to cost. “If we thought there was a reasonable way to do it, we would,” said Musk, “but it involves a new front bumper, a new windscreen and taking the entire car apart to change the wiring harness. It is technically possible but there’s no way it would make any financial sense.”

The over-the-air update will start in North America this evening and take a few days to complete across the fleet of vehicles. Tesla says it is waiting on regulatory approval to install the patch to cars in Europe and Asia, but it expects to secure this within the next week. The Autopilot feature will be a cost upgrade (a $2500 one-time charge in the US), and it will also be available on the forthcoming Model X.

Musk also said that he believes Tesla will be ready to have a fully autonomous vehicle by 2018. “I’m quite confident that within three years the car will be able to take you from point to point - like from home to work - without you doing anything,” he said. “You could be asleep. But by that time, the regulatory approval for that will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some areas it could be a year away; in some it could be several years off. But where data says that statistically it’s safer to have autonomous cars, that’s the point where regulators will be happy to have them.”

The Autopilot technology has already been demonstrated by some of the early adopters who are fed beta versions of the Tesla software. YouTube footage posted by owners shows a Model S moving between lanes on a motorway with no inputs beyond a flick of the indicator stalk.

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Comments
18

14 October 2015
...most EVs are driven by automatons, already.

15 October 2015
So basically sounds just like lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise as available on VAG, BMW and Mercedes for years.... (just needs less keeping your hands on the wheel to pretend your steering)

 

 

 

15 October 2015
Deputy wrote:

So basically sounds just like lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise as available on VAG, BMW and Mercedes for years.... (just needs less keeping your hands on the wheel to pretend your steering)

VAG lane keeping assist sucks to high heaven. The Tesla system actually acknowledges you want to change lanes. You just indicate and the car does it for you. The VAG lane keeping assist bings and bong and resists steering effort when changing lanes even with the indicator on. It is useless. Don't get me started on the adaptive cruise...

15 October 2015
Go on, @winnie, spill the beans on ACC! I like it (for example) in those several mile motorway trundles at 50 mph, when traffic speed may vary a little but generally is well behaved and keeps in lane. Set the distance, then de-stress as the car drives itself. Downside at other times for me is that as it reacts to something that has happened, rather than anticipates, this means is I have to "anticipate" what I think it will do and switch it off (or change speed/distance setting) in time so it cannot react in a way I don't want. Example of this is the car I am following leaves my lane and I want to hold my position and speed relative to the other vehicles around me, ACC has other ideas, so I have to intervene. I thought this stuff was supposed to make life easier!

15 October 2015
Thats just it isnt it Adrian987.... the systems aren't integrated with each other, and individually they are pretty dumb. Like ACC only scans ahead, so if a nutter zooms up lane 3 at 100mph and cuts you up, you have a 'moment'. I think Tesla's might be the first system to scan 360 degrees and bring all these systems together. It actually sounds useful.

15 October 2015
I would have said ACC is like going out on the motorway with an unconfident new driver who just passed their test! Fine in steady state conditions but scary and untrustable if the situation is more complex. They just don't behave in a "human" way. To be frank I tried these gadgets once, got scared / frustrated / irritated by them and now they stay off permanently. Its hard to find the "right" conditions to make them work. Its easier to drive yourself. I suppose they might help if you are super tired or something, but then you shouldn't be driving in the first place.

15 October 2015
I've only seen ACC work OK once in my friends Merc. He set it on 110mph and stayed in the outside lane. He only had to intervene a couple of times during a 2 hour journey. I am a sad sack who stays to the left, pulls out to overtake etc. It really doesnt suit this sort of driving style.

16 October 2015
Actually thinking about it, maybe its a trust issue... because ACC doesnt behave in a human way, because it maintains a 2 second or whatever you set it to gap to the car in front and will try to achieve the target speed no matter what. Maybe that will be the holy grail. An ACC that knows when you need to be a bit aggressive and maintain a 1 second gap to the car infront for short periods to maintain position. An ACC that can see that the overtaking move out to lane 3 will require a quick burst upto 85mph even if set to 70mph. An ACC that can tell there is queued traffic in the distance, and even if the road directly ahead is clear, is smart enough to know to maintain 50mph rather than accelerate upto a target speed set to say 70mph and then brake again. I think until this day, I will keep it switched off. I cant see this day arriving any time soon.

19 October 2015
winniethewoo wrote:

An ACC that can see that the overtaking move out to lane 3 will require a quick burst upto 85mph evenAn ACC that can tell there is queued traffic in the distance, and even if the road directly ahead is clear, is smart enough to know to maintain 50mph rather than accelerate upto a target speed set to say 70mph and then brake again... I cant see this day arriving any time soon.

And if we believe the tech people, this will happen when cars can "talk" to each other. In the meantime, challenging conditions, it is pleasing to know that the alert driver still has the upper hand over ACC. Pleased to hear there is another driver out there who keeps left (UK). Now all they need to do is get some tech that will do this for drivers, there's an awful lot out there who could benefit from learning how to keep left.

15 October 2015
So basically sounds just like lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise as available on VAG, BMW and Mercedes for years.... (just needs less keeping your hands on the wheel to pretend your steering)

 

 

 

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