Tesla Announces Major Self-Driving Hardware Revision and Future Level 5 Capability

2015 Tesla Model S P85D

Fare thee well, dear Autopilot, for you are being shown the door, although you’re not being ushered through it quite yet. Starting today, all Tesla vehicles will feature hardware to enable what Tesla is now referring to as “self-driving capability,” with Tesla CEO Elon Musk adding that Autopilot “does not represent self-driving any more than autopilot in an aircraft makes it self-flying,” which could be a veiled retort to German regulators. A comprehensive upgrade of the camera, sensor, and computing suites allows for two flavors of the system, which Tesla is referring to as Hardware 2. And the company looks to be eyeing a reverse Cannonball as a way to prove the new system’s worth.

The lower-tier system basically will enable the car to navigate freeways without driver input, which Musk referred to as “enhanced Autopilot.” The full-boat system also will be capable of navigating urban environments. Hardware 2 features either four or eight cameras as well as a sonar system that doubles the range. The eight-camera system consists of three forward-facing cameras ahead of the rearview mirror, two mounted in the B-pillars, two side-rear units in the turn-signal repeaters, and a rear-facing lens above the license plate. The larger volume of information is processed via a computer capable of 12 trillion operations per second, which Musk calls “basically a supercomputer in a car.”

To start, however, the cars won’t be quite as capable as Hardware 1 vehicles. For the first couple of months, Hardware 2–equipped Teslas will operate in learning mode; Tesla estimates that an update will arrive in December or January that will begin to unlock the potential of the new electronics suite, giving them feature parity with Autopilot cars. Updates will roll out roughly every two or three months after that, with the ultimate goal being full Level 5 autonomy (read: fully self-driving Level 5, not steering-wheel-free Level 5).


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Musk hopes that, by the end of 2017, a Tesla will be able to drive itself from Los Angeles to New York, drop the “driver” in Times Square, and then go park itself in a garage. He says it will be accomplished “without the need for a single touch, including charging.” Which seems to suggest that the company has plans to roll out inductive Supercharging between Los Angeles and New York in the next twelve months.

Tesla’s current target is for the system to be twice as safe as the average driver, with the ultimate goal being a tenfold increase in safety over human operators. And for those with Hardware 1–equipped automobiles, Tesla claims it will continue to upgrade your system over time as well.


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