Throughout the years, Elon Musk’s Tesla has been known to rock the world of semi-autonomous driving with huge leaps. With yesterday’s announcement of a major overhaul to the Autopilot software, glimpses of future populated by self-driven cars with superior object detection abilities got that much crisper. Until now, Tesla car’s ability to detect objects and swerve accordingly hasn’t been as reliable and as safe as Tesla hoped it to be — which led to a fatal crash of Model S back in May 2016. However, Tesla set out to change that by upgrading the onboard radar, turning it into a primary control sensor with “superhuman” detection abilities. According to Elon Musk himself, this would likely have been enough to prevent such accidents from happening.
“We’re making much more effective use of radar. We weren’t confident that we could resolve false positives where the radar would think that it should brake, but it shouldn’t. The new system should detect anything that’s metallic, large and dense and brake the vehicle entirely in most cases.” explains Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO.
So what exactly is all the fuss about? The new Autopilot system version 8.0 can bounce its radar signal off of the roadway or its surroundings and receive an echo signal back to provide the car a view around any cars that are driving in front of it or in its vicinity. Should the need arise, radar alone will initiate a braking event, rather than requiring the camera component to also provide a positive image recognition result of a potential object. The system is able to brake even when it doesn’t recognize what the object is. As pointed out by Musk, the radar also works well in situations with obscured vision such as rain, fog or haze. It can even sense a multi-car pileup long before the driver can.
Tesla appears to have gone full force with the improvements. The system will also register false positives using Tesla’s network of fleet vehicles, geocoding stuff that’s confusing the system like billboards to prevent them causing unnecessary braking events. The entire Autosteer upgrade will be done via over-the-air software, free to existing Tesla owners, and will work with Tesla vehicles from 2014 and on, since those all include the necessary radar hardware.
Musk also noted that beginning soon, even when Autosteer is not actually turned on, Tesla will enable a feature that allows the car to nudge you back towards the road automatically when it’s “highly confident” that you’re in danger of veering off a roadway.
“I do want to emphasize that this does not mean perfect safety,” says Musk. “Perfect safety is really an impossible goal. It’s really about improving the probability of safety, that’s really all you can accomplish.”
That is not all that Tesla brings to the table. As if to strengthen their determination to make the technology the safest it can be, other features coming in the 8.0 update include a new safety mechanism that actually fully disables Autopilot if a driver repeatedly ignores the warning to keep your hands on the wheel. With Tesla’s reputation for pushing the borders of autonomous driving seemingly overnight, staying on toes for what will Elon Musk bring us next can indeed be thrilling.