Just over a week ago, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors unveiled a software update for the highly popular Model S electric car that opens the door for Autopilot. Rumors of Autopilot had leaked out prior to the software upgrade and many had believed that the software was a revolutionary self driving technology that would take consumers’ hands off the wheel. While that did not come to fruition, the possibility is there for the near future, kind of.
The Autopilot software introduces new features to existing Model S cars, however, hardware that is only on the newer cars is needed to utilize the full potential of the software package. The hardware package needed to fully use Autopilot cannot be retrofitted to the older cars.
A new Tesla, like the dual motor Model S P85D, will fully utilize the Software v6.0 update. Tesla’s goal is not to introduce the world to a driverless car. According to a Tesla press release, the driverless car for the masses is still years away from becoming a reality. Tesla named their system Autopilot after the system used on airplanes by pilots when conditions are clear, offering an increase in safety and comfort. The Model S’s Autopilot assists drivers by relieving them during boring and dangerous trips. The driver is still in control of the vehicle and responsible for driving the car.
The Autopilot system offers exciting possibilities over the long-term for owners. The press release indicated that the car could automatically check the owner’s calendar each morning and pre-program a calculated route to the appointment, based on real-time traffic, shared by other Tesla owners. The car could use a Homelink system to open the garage door. Nothing super special when looking at today’s technology. However, this is where the potential of the Model S and the Software v6.0 will set Tesla apart from the competition. Musk plans for the car to automatically back out of the garage and pull up to the owner’s door ready to take them to work or their first meeting of the day, doctor’s appointment or any other potential appointment.
There are other options the software package offers to enhance the driving experience. Cooling or heating the car based on the owners preferences, streaming preferred morning news, and more. The cars currently being built offer a forward radar and an array of sensors that place the car in a 16-foot bubble paired with a forward-looking camera and a state of the art, digitally controlled braking system.
The Autopilot system will utilize this hardware and to assist drivers to avoid collisions from multiple directions and help to keep the vehicle on the road. Autopilot will assist the driver by helping them stay within their lane with minor steer corrections. Tapping the turn signal indicator could tell the car to check around it and then automatically change lanes. Speed control is managed by the camera reading road sines and using the Tesla WiFi connection to use real-time traffic information to adjust the velocity of the car for speeds appropriate to conditions.
All the features of the new Software package from Tesla for the Model S Autopilot system are not currently active. These will be rolled out over time through over the air updates. Tesla will continue to develop new functions and capabilities to the new Model S’s and per usual to develop new capabilities and deliver them through over-the-air software updates, keeping our customers at the forefront of driving technology.
By Carl Auer