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Tesla rolls out self driving car software

Tesla rolls out self driving car softwareTens of thousands of Tesla owners will get their first taste of autonomous driving technology this week when the electric carmaker pushes out its “Autopilot” software update.

Up to 60,000 Tesla Model S vehicles already have the hardware required to run the software, which will allow the car to automatically steer within highway lane markers, change lanes and parallel park.

A year ago, Tesla began building a dozen sensors, radar, forward-facing image-recognition cameras and advanced GPS navigation into its Model S. For customers with those vehicles, enabling Autopilot costs an extra $2,500, after installing a software update available in the US from Thursday. Regulatory approval is still pending in Europe and Asia.

Elon Musk, Tesla co-founder and chief executive, told reporters at an event in Palo Alto on Wednesday that his ultimate objective was to create a car that behaved like a “really good chauffeur”.

“It’ll actually do better than a person,” he said. “I think this is going to be quite a profound experience for people when they do it . . . It’s going to change people’s perception of the future quite radically.”

Tesla is racing Silicon Valley rivals such as Google and Apple, as well as traditional automakers including Audi and BMW, towards a future of completely autonomous cars, which Mr Musk now predicts will be technically possible — if not necessarily legal — by 2018.

“I’m quite confident within three years the car will be able to take you from point to point — from your driveway to work without you touching anything,” he said. “You could be asleep the whole time and do so completely safely.”

However, he said regulatory approval for this could take “several years” depending on the local authorities. Additional hardware that is not yet built into the Model S, such as redundant motors and more sensors, would be also required for full autonomy, he added.

For now, Tesla is warning drivers as they install the version 7.0 software update that they still must concentrate on the road at all times. An alert from the dashboard reminds drivers of this at regular intervals if the wheel does not detect a human touch.

“We are advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, just in case,” Mr Musk said. “It’s very important that people exercise caution because the software is very new.”

For example, the sensors, cameras, radar and software could easily be flummoxed by rain, snow, dust or fog. While it is good at detecting large, solid objects — even when moving at high speeds — pedestrians and cyclists might be more tricky, Mr Musk admitted.

“It should not hit pedestrians, hopefully,” he said. “It can see and sense cyclists and pedestrians. It should brake before hitting them . . . [But] I wouldn’t want to say today, don’t worry about it.”

In any accident, the driver remains liable, he added.

The Model S update adds some self-driving capabilities that are already offered by Mercedes S-Class and the Volvo XC90, while other automakers are also developing similar technology.

But Mr Musk said that Tesla’s ability to collect and share detailed navigation data between cars, via their wireless connection to its central database, gives it a unique advantage in creating a reliable experience.

“The big differentiator here is that the whole Tesla fleet operates as a network,” Mr Musk said. “When one car learns something, the whole fleet learns it . . . It should get better with each passing day.”

Mr Musk hopes that data collected anonymously from Tesla drivers will also help to persuade regulators that autonomous driving is safer than leaving humans — easily distracted, sometimes tired and occasionally drunk — behind the wheel.

Mr Musk said he would be “open” to selling this data to other car companies in future.

Autopilot is enabled by tapping twice on a button to the left side of the steering wheel, which was previously used to engage cruise control. To change lanes, the driver flips the indicator and the car navigates between adjacent vehicles.

A new dashboard display, also part of the software update, shows the car’s position relative to other traffic on the road, flashing yellow when a nearby obstacle is detected.

“It’s a real boon in high-traffic situations,” Mr Musk said. “In slow moving gridlocked traffic you can turn on Autopilot and it works super well — almost to the point where you can take your hands off. Some people may — we don’t advise that.”

Source: Financial Times
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