Tesla’s autopilot brings self-driving to highways

The future has arrived. Owners of Tesla cars can now implement ‘autopilot’ for their electric cars.

Since October 2014 the company’s Model S has been fitted with the hardware that allows the car to drive itself on highways. Now with a simple software update, model’s owners are able to activate the controls and take off some of the pressures of driving.

The new autopilot feature, which doesn’t work in all situations, is one of the first stages that will result in Elon Musk’s company producing fully self-driving cars. Musk has previously said that Tesla will be producing completely autonomous cars by 2018.

Tesla’s version 7 software release allows the forward radar, forward looking camera, 12 ultrasonic sensors monitoring the proximity of the car, and assisted braking system to work together and allow the car to drive itself. When working together the autopilot system can allow a car to steer inside the lane it is driving in, change lanes at the press of a button, and brake when it senses moving traffic slowing down.

The first videos, and reviews, of people using the autopilot feature have started to appear online. The clips show people taking their hands off the steering wheel for the first time and their responses to putting their trust in the cars.

Drivers – who should probably be called pilots when they’re not in control of their cars – can be seen to tell the vehicle to change lanes by tapping the car’s turning signal. By pushing the turn signal’s stalk upwards, drivers are able to change the cruise control’s speed limit.

More than one video sees the car’s pilot hit the brakes out of “instinct” or not trusting the car. The car also makes the person in the driver’s seat touch the steering if their hands are away from it for too long. Musk has said the system, despite its public roll out, is in a beta stage and drivers should keep their hands on the wheel to be safe.

In one example, below, the Tesla is driving autonomously on a highway at more than 100kmph, while there’s some nifty classical music playing in the background.

The autopilot functions and operation, which will collect some data for Tesla, will help the company to create and refine cars that are able to drive themselves completely.

“While truly driverless cars are still a few years away, Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear,” a press release from the company says.

But included in the Model S may be some more self-driving capabilities that are introduced at a later date.

A company spokesperson, in Ars Technica’s review of the system, says that the car can’t detect red traffic lights yet, although it can read speed limit signs.

However, she goes on to say: “It has all of the technology in place to read red lights and stop signs.

“It will not react or respond to those yet as the system was built for highways. The system was definitely not built for 12th Avenue in New York.”

Featured image courtesy of Tesla 


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Human habitat located on the Moon that will shield us from its extreme elements

Researchers have discovered a potential habitat on the Moon, which may protect astronauts from hazardous conditions on the surface.

No one has ever been on the Moon for longer than three days, largely because space suits alone can’t shield astronauts from its elements: extreme temperature variation, radiation, and meteorite impacts. Unlike Earth, the Moon also has no atmosphere or magnetic field to protects its inhabitants.

However, in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers have claimed that the safest place for astronauts to seek shelter is inside an intact lava tube.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” said Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at JAXA, Japan’s space agency.

Image courtesy of Purdue University/David Blair. Featured image courtesy of NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Lava tubes are naturally occurring channels formed when a lava flow develops a hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Once the lava stops flowing, the tunnel sometimes drains, forming a hollow void.

The Lava tubes located by Purdue University researchers are said to be spacious enough to house one of the United States’ largest cities, and while their existence – and in particular their entrance near the Marius Hills Skylight – was previously known, their size was previously an unknown quantity.

“They knew about the skylight in the Marius Hills, but they didn’t have any idea how far that underground cavity might have gone,” said Jay Melosh, professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University.

“Our group at Purdue used the gravity data over that area to infer that the opening was part of a larger system. By using this complimentary technique of radar, they were able to figure out how deep and high the cavities are.”

At the first meeting of the US’ reintroduced National Space Council, vice president Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration will redirect America’s focus to travelling back to the Moon.

Pence’s declaration marks a fundamental change for NASA, which abandoned plans to send people to the moon in favour of Mars under President Barack Obama.

“We will return NASA astronauts to the moon – not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said.