Tesla has edged a little bit closer to its vision of a fully autonomous driving future, introducing a new feature for the latest version of its Autopilot software designed to handle the bulk of highway travel.
Dubbed Navigate with Autopilot, the new functionality is part of Version 9 of Tesla's Autopilot software that was released in early October. This also saw the addition of Atari games to the touchscreen (only when the car is parked), along with other features like a dash cam mode that collects 10-minute clips from the car's front-facing camera.
The company calls Navigate with Autopilot its most advanced Autopilot feature ever and is part of an upgrade to its driver-assistance technology. Available to Tesla owners with the Enhanced Autopilot platform, the upgrade is built to guide the vehicle from the on-ramp of a highway to the off-ramp, albeit under driver supervision (for now).
With the feature engaged, the car will suggest lane changes, navigate interchanges and take the correct exit. In its current form, it will change lanes automatically, though only after the driver okays it with a tug of the turn stalk to show they are paying attention. Tesla says there are two kinds of lane changes that the software will suggest, one designed to keep the car as close to its navigation route as possible, and the other designed to keep the vehicle as close to its target speed as possible.
The sensitivity of these speed-based lane-change suggestions can be configured through different settings, with "Mild" suggesting a change when traveling significantly below the target speed, and "Mad Max" making a case for a lane change even when traveling just below it.
Tesla says with further development, Navigate on Autopilot will allow owners to disable the confirmation requirement, enabling the car to change lanes where it sees fit. CEO Elon Musk expanded on this on Twitter, stating that "when safety looks good after 10 million miles (16 million km) of driving or so, there will be an option to turn off confirm."
This isn't a great deal of data in the grand scheme of things. Since Autopilot launched in 2015, Tesla's onboard sensors, radars and cameras have been used to collect more than one billion miles of real-world driving data, which is all part of its plan to realize a fully self-driving future.
Tesla has made the autonomous features of its vehicles a key selling point, and this has raised concerns that customers may be misled and place disproportionate reliance on the software. The term Autopilot itself is seen by some as misleading, including the European New Car Assessment Program which recently stated "system name, Autopilot, does not clearly indicate that this is an Assist System and could give a wrong impression about the system capabilities."
By his own admission, Musk acknowledged the murkiness of these descriptors when admitting the "Full Self Driving Option" had been pulled from Tesla's vehicle order page in mid-October, conceding it "was causing too much confusion." This was understandably met with some backlash from customers who had forked out US$5,000 and waited years for the feature, with its future now uncertain.
Only a checkbox for "Enhanced Autopilot" now features on Tesla's order page. When or if the Full Self-Driving Option returns, and in what form, remains to be seen. For what it's worth, Tesla asks that its drivers "always be attentive when using Autopilot."
You can see the new Navigate on Autopilot software demonstrated in the video below.
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