Tesla announced today that every car it makes going forward will feature all the “hardware needed for full self-driving capability.” However, the self-driving system won’t be turned on until further testing is performed.
Tesla says the safety level of these self-driving cars will be “substantially greater than that of a human driver.”
Instead of the single camera previously outfitted for Tesla Autopilot, the new system will have “eight surround cameras [that] provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.”
All the data captured by the self-driving system will be processed on a Tesla neural net running on a computer powered by Nvidia’s Titan GPUs, which Tesla claims is 40 times faster than the hardware used in previous models.
But, again, the self-driving features won’t be available at first. They will be added through over-the-air updates at some point in the future. So that means features such as emergency braking and active cruise control that are currently available to Tesla owners won’t be available to you if you buy a Tesla in the immediate future.
“Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving,” Tesla says. “While this is occurring, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware.”
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This is a major move for Tesla as it moves away from the semi-autonomous nature of its Autopilot system that has confused many over exactly what it’s capable of doing. Of course, Tesla came under major scrutiny after 40-year-old Joshua Brown was killed on May 7, 2016 when his Tesla, on Autopilot, failed to apply the brakes as a tractor-trailer was making a left turn in front of the car. It turned out that Autopilot was never designed to handle the scenario that led to this fatal crash. Tesla and Mobileye, which initially collaborated on Autopilot, ended their relationship as a result of this fatal crash.
To coincide with this announcement, Tesla also released a video of one of its cars autonomously driving from a residential garage through suburban streets and highways to the company’s own parking lot. Watch the video below.
That video is impressive, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Afterall it is a promotional video, so how realistic were the driving conditions? Google released a similar video in 2012 (watch below) that showed one of its self-driving cars bring a blind person to a local Taco Bell. Google admitted that the drive took place “on a carefully programmed route,” so Tesla very well could have done the same thing with its promo video.
Nevertheless, full autonomy is part of Elon Musk’s Master Plan, Part Deux. Musk revealed the plan to create not only self-driving cars, but also self-driving electric trucks and self-driving buses. The self-driving truck, called the Tesla Semi, is designed specifically to support cargo and transportation services. The driver role is expected to transition to one of a fleet manager. Musk said the Tesla Semi will “deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”
Tesla’s buses would be able to provide convenience, increase road safety and reduce traffic congestion. The buses would take passengers to their destination, and would accommodate wheelchairs, strollers, and bikes. Ordering a bus will be done by smartphone.
Here is today’s Tesla announcement reprinted in its entirety:
Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving transportation safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future. Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver, lower the financial cost of transportation for those who own a car and provide low-cost on-demand mobility for those who do not.
We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.
To make sense of all of this data, a new onboard computer with more than 40 times the computing power of the previous generation runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software. Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses.
Model S and Model X vehicles with this new hardware are already in production, and customers can purchase one today.
Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience. While this is occurring, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control. As these features are robustly validated we will enable them over the air, together with a rapidly expanding set of entirely new features. As always, our over-the-air software updates will keep customers at the forefront of technology and continue to make every Tesla, including those equipped with first-generation Autopilot and earlier cars, more capable over time.