Tesla Motors goes 'no hands’ with autopilot software

Tesla has released several key updates to its Model S and Model X vehicles that are essential building blocks to cars that drive fully autonomously. 

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters/File
New Autopilot features are demonstrated in a Tesla Model S during a Tesla event in Palo Alto, California October 14, 2015.

Cars that function autonomously—that truly drive themselves—remain some years away; yet today, Tesla Motors [NSDQ: TSLA] released several key technologies that are essential building-block technologies for getting there.

With its latest software upgrade, called version 7.0, Tesla has added to Model S sedans and Model X utility wagons a feature suite that Tesla says “increases the driver’s confidence behind the wheel with features that help the car avoid hazards and reduce the driver’s workload.”

The update includes Autosteer, a feature that steers the vehicle to stay in the current travel lane, working with Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.

In short, it's no-hands cruise control. But the feature won’t quite allow you to drive while you’re doing other things; the driver still has to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel. Furthermore, CEO Elon Musk said that it’s considered a “public beta” feature.

Lane changes and parking automated, too

While the Model S may rival some of the most sophisticated lane-keep systems on the market—now actually in a wide range of luxury models—with Autosteer, it goes beyond that with a new Auto Lane Change feature that allows you to move to the adjacent lane when it’s safe to do so, merely by engaging the turn signal.

The Model S can now also park itself in a parallel spot. That feature is enabled at low speeds, with a ‘P’ on the instrument panel that appears when a spot is detected; once you respond to a screen prompt and see the rear camera display, the system actually controls both steering and vehicle speed.

And there’s an Automatic Emergency Steering and Side Collision Warning feature that alerting the driver to adjacent vehicles that are too close, and making slight steering adjustments.

Real-world 'beta' to prove itself?

The new suite of features uses lane markings as a primary means of following lanes, however it backs the inputs up with data from a high-resolution GPS database. So far Tesla hasn’t revealed much about how it’s gathered detail for that or what its limitations are, but Musk said that the feature is adaptive.

Tesla is rolling the update out to existing Model S and Model X vehicles over the next several days; it applies to all that have been built over the past year or so—which means that tens of thousands of vehicles will suddenly have hands-off-the-wheel cruise control. Stay tuned on what happens.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.