Tesla revamps Autopilot

Months after its first fatal crash, Tesla has updated its autopilot technology to make its cars safer than ever

CEO Elson Musk said the updates included in Autopilot 8.0 would make the Tesla Model X (pictured) one of the safest cars on the road

Following a tirade of criticism in May when its self-driving car caused its first fatality,Tesla has revealed a major overhaul to its autopilot technology. As detailed in a press release published on September 11, in addition to various small modifications to the software, Autopilot 8.0 now has superior signal processing capabilities.

The new system uses the pre-existing radar on board to integrate advanced signal processing and “create a picture of the world”. The radar, which has featured in all Tesla vehicles since October 2014, was initially intended to be supplementary to the principal camera and image processing system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the latest improvements will make vehicles with Autopilot 8.0 “three times safer” than those without

There were numerous challenges to overcome in order to use the radar as Autopilot’s ‘primary control sensor’, particularly in regards to preventing false alarms. For example, metal surfaces appear amplified through the radar, posing the risk of emergency braking if, say, a harmless tin can appears on the road. To resolve this problem, Tesla has implemented a point cloud that is more detailed and can access far more radar objects.

The next step involved the ability to assemble radar snapshots  to create a “3D ‘picture’ of the world” and assess whether an object is stationary or moving. The final step will use fleet learning to compile data on any given road and radar object, increasing accuracy over time as more people use the system.

Moreover, in another bid to squash concerns, Autopilot 8.0 has added restrictions to prevent a false sense of security for drivers. As such, the new system will not allow the use of ‘hands off’ technology when audible warnings to take control of the vehicle are ignored.

During a press call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the latest improvements will make vehicles with Autopilot 8.0 “three times safer” than those without. “I think it will make the Model S and Model X by far the safest cars on the road. I don’t think there would be a car that is even within a multiple of the S and the X”, he added.

The changes will be reviewed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is currently investigating Autopilot as a result of the fatality earlier this year.

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