Elon Musk has self-driving capabilities. At a press conference on Wednesday, Musk revealed they had already begun equipping new Model S and Model X vehicles with the technology. However, previously built vehicles without the new hardware won’t have the fully autonomous features.
The new features include eight surround cameras that provide 360 degree visibility, twelve update ultrasonic sensors and a forward-facing radar with enhanced processing power. The vehicles will also be equipped with an onboard computer with more than 40 times the computing power of the previous generation.
This isn’t Tesla’s first foray into self-driving technology. Tesla vehicles manufactured after September 2014 already come with a semi-autonomous system called Autopilot.
Ultrasonic sensors allow the vehicles to detect road signs, lane markings and other vehicles on the road. As well as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings, these vehicles also have semi-autonomous parking capabilities. Far from being the finished article, this represented a giant leap toward full autonomy.
The new hardware hasn’t yet been approved by regulators, but Musk doesn’t foresee this being a significant obstacle. He did reveal the new hardware will initially lack some of the capabilities of Autopilot, including cruise control and lane departure warnings. Those features could take up to three months as the company works to calibrate the new system.
The announcement comes as the electric car manufacturer faces increasing scrutiny over its Autopilot system. In July, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it had opened a formal investigation into a fatal accident which occurred on the 7th of May 2016. A Tesla driver was killed in a crash with a large 18-wheel tractor trailer; the first known fatal accident involving the Autopilot system.
There has been some criticism of the semi-autonomous technology, with commentators making the point that the technology lulls drivers into complacency behind the wheel. Tesla have updated their software since the crash to make the cars more reliant on radar to navigate. This update would have prevented the crash, Elon Musk said.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the new features:
- The new Model 3, as well as Model X and S vehicles in production, will have eight surround cameras with 360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 metres of range.
- 12 updated ultrasonic sensors that can detect objects at nearly twice the range of the previous generation.
- A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing that is capable of seeing through rain, fog, dust and even the car in front of it.
- Lastly, the cars will also be equipped with an on-board computer made by Nvidia Corp. These models have 40 times the processing power of previous ones
There will be two options available to buyers when picking a car, Musk said. An improved version of Autopilot, with improved cameras and computing power to perform more complex maneuvers, or a fully autonomous vehicle. According to their blog post, the fully autonomous features will be available for about $8,000 extra.
In other news, Musk also announced the hardware update will be followed by a solar roof and Powerwall 2.0 battery and Tesla charger. The billionaire has previously said the new energy efficient roof would be seen for the first time on October 28th.
The roof, battery and charger are being created by Tesla and one of Musk's other companies, SolarCity. The company say buyers will get to customise the design in order to fit with their specific housing design.
It was also revealed earlier this week that Tesla and SolarCity would be working with Panasonic on solar cells and modules for a panel that will work with Tesla’s batteries for homes, buildings, and power grid.
Elon Musk says the company hopes to demonstrate the technology by making a coast-to-coast trip in fully autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.
The company has certainly become a frontrunner in the industry in recent years. It’s even working with the LAPD on outfitting a Model S with radios, a computer, a custody cage, and a locking shotgun rack, among other features.
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