All new Tesla vehicles will feature hardware capable of driving completely autonomously, Chief Executive Elon Musk announced at a press conference on October 19. In an ambitious acceleration of Tesla’s self-driving programme, the car manufacturer has begun to equip all Model S and Model X vehicles with a new hardware system, including eight cameras – to provide 360-degree visibility – and twelve ultrasonic sensors.
The software set to accompany the update is still being tested and currently awaits regulator approval. Once validated, each software update will progressively increase the vehicle’s self-driving capabilities – with Tesla aiming for full automation by the end of 2017.
“Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving transportation safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future”, the carmaker said in an official statement detailing the hardware update.
‘Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver, lower the financial cost of transportation for those who own a car and provide low-cost on-demand mobility for those who do not.”
Tesla have sought to reassure regulators of the safety of its self-driving features after a driver using the company’s existing Autopilot mode was involved in a fatal crash in May. An investigation by safety regulators revealed that the car’s front-facing camera had failed to recognise a white truck against a bright, sunny sky – leading the vehicles to collide. The crash prompted the company to overhaul its Autopilot feature, moving the system away from a reliance on cameras and increasing the role of radars in navigation.
New Tesla vehicles will initially lack this existing Autopilot system, with current features such as automatic braking, lane holding and cruise control being temporarily disabled as the company prioritises the next generation of hardware. These Autopilot features will be enabled in instalments through ‘over-the-air’ software updates as the company works on validating the new system.
After watching stock prices fall in recent months, the car manufacturer has been setting increasingly ambitious deadlines for its autonomous technologies in an attempt to maintain investor confidence. Yet, as regulators continue to scrutinise Tesla’s existing Autopilot systems, the company’s new self-driving software could well face a lengthy approval process.