Tesla isn't the only manufacturer working to develop advanced semi-autonomous driver aids, but it takes a particularly active approach to keeping its system updated. The latest over-the-air update for Autopilot brings perpendicular and parallel parking for cars equipped with Enhanced Autopilot hardware.
Having announced Autopilot 8.0 and Enhanced Autopilot software late last year, Tesla has been gradually rolling out new features. The over-the-air updates began in January, where cars with the new suite of camera, radar and ultrasonic sensors were given the ability to self-steer, adaptive cruise control and auto-emergency braking.
The latest update, which was launched over the weekend, adds self-parking in perpendicular and parallel spots to the mix. It also removes a 55 mph (88.5 km/h) speed limit on auto-steer, and supposedly makes the system feel "smooth as silk."
Whereas the original Autopilot included just one camera, one radar and an array of ultrasonic sensors to work out where it is, the Enhanced Autopilot hardware suite ups the camera count to six. It also relies more heavily on information from the radar to build a better picture of the world around it.
Until recently, radar played a limited role in semi-autonomous Tesla systems. Although excellent at seeing through foggy, dusty or rainy conditions, radar isn't particularly good at detecting painted wood or plastic. Humans are also semi-translucent to radar, making it the wrong tool to try and avoid pedestrians. On the other hand, curved metal surfaces amplify radar signals – potentially making innocuous items like drink cans seem massive and threatening.
With Autopilot 8.0 and the Enhanced Autopilot hardware, Tesla has attempted to solve these problems. Radar units on all examples of the Model S and Model X sold after October last year can distinguish between six times as many objects as before, and the new central Drive PX2 processor is 40 times more powerful than the chip in older cars with Autopilot.
Tesla is eventually planning to use its Autopilot hardware for full autonomy across its entire range.