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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