Elon Musk Promises Major Upgrade to Tesla’s Autopilot Driving System


Elon Musk said Wednesday he’s soon going to make good on his promise to upgrade Tesla Motors’ semi-automated Autopilot driving system. His announcement comes amid intense scrutiny following a fatal accident involving a Model S driver using the feature.

Musk, the brash tech industrialist aiming to make Tesla a global leader in clean vehicles powered by renewable energy, announced the coming upgrade plan in a string of comments on Twitter, his preferred means of public communication.

“Major improvements to Autopilot coming with V8.0 and 8.1 software (std OTA update) primarily through advanced processing of radar signals,” Musk wrote, using a common shorthand for “standard over the air”. “Writing post now with details. Will publish on Tesla website later today.”

Unique among auto brands, Tesla can roll out vehicle enhancements via wireless software updates, much like a smartphone, to provide new features and fixes without requiring customers to visit a dealership. Musk said enhancements to its vehicle operating system will “go to wide release in a few weeks.”

Current-generation Tesla vehicles rely mainly on camera-based sensors to monitor road and traffic conditions. Based on his comments, Tesla has made progress in how its sensors and radar process object information to provide greater accuracy in what the vehicle can “see” when Autopilot is engaged.

Autopilot is semi-autonomous feature, combining adaptive cruise control and sensors that keep its battery-powered Model S sedans and Model X SUVs centered in their driving lanes and can initiate lane changes for drivers when they put the turn signal on. The system is intended for use primarily on highways, rather than in city driving, and is at its best in congested, stop and go conditions.

While the name Autopilot may suggest a system capable of driving itself, Tesla cautions that it’s intended only to assist, rather than take over for drivers. Indeed it instructs drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, and will alert those who fail to for extended periods of time. Tesla describes Autopilot as still being in a public beta phase and requires drivers to acknowledge that they understand its limitations before it engages.

The May accident that killed a 40-year-old Tesla owner occurred while he was driving on an interstate in Williston, Florida. The company said the car’s sensors failed to detect the white side of a large commercial truck amid bright, sunny conditions when it crossed in front of the vehicle.

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SOURCE: Forbes, Alan Ohnsman