Last night Tesla began the process of updating every vehicle that has been made in the US over the past year with software that gives the vehicle autopilot. The update will run over the course of this week and will change much of the visual display on the Model S and X, offering more features and more information for the driver to monitor their vehicle.
The autopilot feature is not a completely true autopilot where the driver can nap or watch TV, currently it’s more of an assistant for driving. Drivers can take their hands off the wheel but will be prompted to touch the steering wheel in some capacity after a short period. Tesla currently advises drivers to drive with their hands resting on their knees, palms up and fingertips touching the steering wheel.
There are still many legal issues across the US and Europe with hands free driving. Some states like New York require at least one hand to be on the wheel at all times. Tesla also wants to make sure drivers stay responsible for their vehicles and their driving. In the press event revealing the autopilot feature, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, describes this as a ‘beta’ test.
Regulators need to see clear evidence that the reliability is there. It works almost to the point where you can take your hands off, but we won’t say that. Almost.
Autosteer is the main piece of software that is being pushed out with the autopilot update and it utilizes a variety of sensors that include a camera with image recognition capability, front-facing radar, and 360-degree ultrasonic sonar to let the car detect lane lines and other vehicles. Drivers can also tap the turn signal and the car will change lanes as long as there isn’t anything in the way. Both Model S and X vehicles will now parallel park for you as well.
There are some limitations, however. The autosteer feature will not work at speeds less than 18mph and is ultimately intended for long distance freeway and highway driving where there are fewer obstacles to deal with. Autopilot is not quite ready to handle things like cyclists, construction, and traffic lights. It also has a failsafe system so if the driver does not touch the steering wheel after repeated prompts, the car automatically slows down to a stop and puts its hazard lights on.
While it’s a bold move forward in the autonomous driving field, it’s even more impressive that the software was released in an over-the-air update. No need to go to your local dealer to get the upgrade, they just send the software to your cars’ computer and voila, your car can almost drive itself. Almost.
Source: Tesla Motors