Tesla motors have just started the roll out of their semi-autonomous ‘Autopilot’ mode for the model ‘S’.
Announced back in July the autopilot update comes packaged as an over the air software update that allows the car to take full advantage of it’s already embedded sensor technology. Similar to your smart phone, the Tesla ‘S’ has been pre-built; overloaded with technology to handle functionality updates as and when developed.
This hardware includes forward-looking radar, image-recognition cameras, and 360-degree ultrasonic sonar. All these gadgets will give the Model S the ability to read speed limit signs and cruise at whatever the road’s limit happens to be, along with the ability to automatically change lanes when a driver indicates with the car’s turn signal. The updated autopilot package will also include standard driver assistance tools like lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, and automated braking.
At a press conference, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told journalists that “we’re being especially cautious at this early stage, so we’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case”. He describes the new features as designed to increase “the driver’s confidence behind the wheel” and “to help the car avoid hazards and reduce the driver’s workload”.
Musk also said that the updated autopilot technology will allow the Model S to self-park, parallel park by itself and even pull itself automatically into your garage. He teased that on “private property” (or at least not on public roads), an autopilot-equipped Model S would even be able to pull out of a garage and navigate to where you’re waiting for it to pick you up—evoking images of Michael Keaton’s Batmobile. You could even, Musk explained; program it to meet you at your doorstep at a certain time every day with the AC running and your favorite music already queued up to play.
The new autopilot functions bring with it a new interface, with the dashboard’s central display ditching the round speedometer wheel and instead showing the car’s speed and indications of what the sensors are detecting around the vehicle (other cars, obstacles, and so on). The car’s electromechanical steering will actively resist being steered into other objects, too. Musk said that the force can be overcome if you try, but the car will push against the driver trying to send it into a collision.
Tesla have made it very clear that this update is not an attempt at making a fully autonomous car, they’re approach is more incremental, with the intention of slowly adding features to assist drivers. Only available in the US at the moment, the BBC reports that Tesla have roll out plans for Europe and Asia within the next week or two, depending on regulatory approval.
The strategy and delivery of Tesla’s model ‘S’ is something to be admired, one that spotlights the rise of sensor technology, it’s potential and how this vastly growing market can maintain increased life and support functionality updates in connected products. Coupled with big data and product innovation this could be the start of a new way to develop and release technology products, ensuring both OEM’s and consumers get the most out of their products.