Tesla is now officially in the autonomous car race. The company is equipping all its new cars with self-driving hardware, media reported. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the company’s goal is to have a vehicle that can drive itself from L.A. to New York by the end of next year.
Tesla’s Future of Autonomous Cars
Tesla’s famous electric cars already come with an “Autopilot” mode, a semi-autonomous feature that allows drivers to take hands off the steering wheel for a brief period. Autopilot has been controversial in recent years. Earlier in May, the Autopilot feature was blamed for a fatal car crash in Florida. The German government recently prohibited Tesla from using “Autopilot” in advertisements.
The company, however, seems to think ahead of its current troubles. If Tesla could come up with a fully autonomous car by 2018, that would put the company at the forefront of the self-driving race. Musk told media that the company will be gradually releasing self-driving features. Tesla is calling the autonomous equipment “Hardware 1.”
The fully autonomous features will be updated remotely, just like the company has done previously. The company is currently equipping Model S and Model X with fully autonomous hardware. The upcoming release, Model 3, aimed at the middle market, will have Hardware 1 features as well. Tesla cars older than Model S without the current Autopilot hardware will not support the fully autonomous features if they become available next year.
The new hardware does not have some capabilities, such as emergency braking, lane holding, active cruise control, and collision warning. These features are however available in Autopilot. Musk said these capabilities will most likely calibrated in next two or three months. Tesla will routinely upgrade autonomous features every two or three months as well.
Are Self-Driving Cars Finally Becoming a Reality?
Companies have been working for years to make self-driving cars a reality, but the technology just isn’t ready yet. Tesla is only hoping to have fully autonomous cars ready by the end of next year. The technology the company is developing is not yet ready to use.
Currently, Uber and Google are in a tight race to build self-driving cars. BMW and Ford had proposed self-driving cars by 2021. Google is testing self-driving cars the company has been researching for more than seven years. Uber put a self-driving fleet to test in Pittsburgh, and the results have been mixed.
It’s important to note that Tesla is only unveiling the hardware but not the software. Musk told media that it will take “some time” before the software is fully validated and ready for the approval by government regulators. He said, rather, it’s important for the “foundation” of the cars to be ready.
This is the same strategy Tesla used with Autopilot. The hardware was released when software was still incomplete. In 2014, cars were rolled out with Autopilot hardware such as radar. It was only in late 2015 that the software for these features was actually ready.
Musk Not Happy with Media Coverage of Autopilot Crashes
Tesla is unveiling the new self-driving hardware just as multiple news reports have emerged of problems relating to Autopilot. Several Tesla car crashes have been attributed to the Autopilot mode. However, it was the fatal Florida crash in May that was validated to have been caused by Autopilot mode.
Musk expressed his frustration over media reporting Autopilot crashes, while there are more automobile crashes. Musk says the negative stories could turn people against the autonomous cars, when self-driving technology has made driving safer overall.
Tesla has updated Autopilot software since the crash to make driving safer by being more reliant on radar. The new systems have more cameras and more degrees of visibility compared to the previous system.