Tesla's software already includes an Autopilot feature that makes the car semi-autonomous, but now the company wants to make sure all its cars are ready for a future where more drivers are algorithms than humans. To this end, Tesla has announced a major hardware upgrade for all new Teslas, including the Model 3, that will see every Tesla produced from this point on packing full self-driving hardware.
"Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver, lower the financial cost of transportation for those who own a car and provide low-cost on-demand mobility for those who do not," says Tesla.
In making the announcement Wednesday, Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk also said that the company hopes to demonstrate the technology by making a US coast-to-coast trip in fully autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.
The new hardware package that is becoming standard for Tesla includes eight surround cameras to provide 360-degree visibility around the perimeter of the car, allowing it to basically "see" everything around it within a 250-meter (820-ft) range. There will also be a dozen updated ultrasonic sensors, forward-facing radar and a new, more powerful onboard computer to crunch all that data via Tesla's neural net that's kind of like being able to see in all directions at once and on a bunch of different wavelengths that humans can't perceive.
Of course, don't expect that your new Tesla will drive itself home right away. There's still millions of miles of real-world testing to be done before the company says it will enable the self-driving features. In fact, Teslas with the new hardware may be a little less capable than Teslas already on the road now with the first-generation Autopilot hardware.
"Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control," the company says. "As these features are robustly validated we will enable them over the air, together with a rapidly expanding set of entirely new features."
Musk, who is notorious for having trouble meeting his own deadlines, says this process of enabling features should begin in two to three months, with more upgrades to the vehicles' autonomous capabilities coming regularly every few months after that.
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