Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has stated that in three to six months the first “Full Self-Driving Capability” features will be offered. Achieving truly full self-driving capabilities will take significantly longer, but this will be an important step.
In October 2014, Tesla first started producing cars with the hardware capable for what it calls “Autopilot.” With an over the-air-software update, one year later, Tesla Autopilot was enabled. Among other things, Autopilot completely controls the steering, acceleration and braking when driving on the highway. After an investigation, the United States Department of Transportation recently found that Tesla vehicles with Autopilot installed are 40% less likely to crash than those without Autopilot installed.
The next major improvement came again one year later in October 2016 with the announcement that all new cars would be equipped with Autopilot 2.0 hardware. Autopilot 2.0 hardware differs from 1.0 hardware in that it contains 40 times more computational power, eight cameras instead of one, better radar and better ultrasonic sensors. As a result, Tesla claims that the new hardware will be capable of full-self driving, provided that the vehicle’s software is fully sufficient.
With the new hardware, Tesla began offering two different levels of software. The first is “Enhanced Autopilot,” which will improve substantially upon current Autopilot, but only make use of four of the cameras. This option is offered for $5000. To enable all eight cameras “Full Self-Driving Capability” must be purchased for an additional $3000. This is required for a Tesla to eventually be capable of driving anywhere without any human intervention.
Unfortunately, Tesla vehicles with Autopilot 2.0 hardware still do not yet have quite as many Autopilot capabilities as vehicles with Autopilot 1.0 hardware. Autopilot software relies heavily on deep learning techniques which require considerable amounts of data. As Tesla receives more and more data from its fleet of Autopilot 2.0 hardware containing vehicles, the Autopilot software is automatically improved. Tesla has stated that Autopilot 2.0 containing vehicles will soon have all features that Autopilot 1.0 vehicles currently have. Then in just three to six months features beyond what Tesla even considers “Enhanced Autopilot” will start to be enabled. By the end of 2017 Tesla plans to drive from Los Angeles to New York with no driver intervention.
Business Insider reported yesterday that China is likely to experience a surge in the demand for assisted driving. Expectations are that the market for these types of systems in cars will swell to about $30 billion by 2020.
I remember the first time driving a car, and it was one of the scariest things I had ever done up to that point. It was in the parking lot of a big grocer in the area who had left their space sadly. I would drive around in loops and across the street and back, and it felt freeing. Driving on the highway was a natural extension of that experience. Feeling the car hum under my feet, gliding with the car around turns, and pushing forward gently when I came to a stop were all experiences I loved about driving. They’re experiences I want my kids to have to, especially in a world that is making every other aspect of their life increasingly technological and dependent on something that needs to be charged and could be hacked.
I think this kind of technology is cool because I’m a nerd, and nerds think all of this stuff is really cool. I just hope that in our rush to have the newest, coolest, most hands-off thing, we don’t forget that their are small parts of our lives that actually become more meaningful because of the effort we put into them…like driving.
Recently, news broke that a second crash of a Tesla car was being probed in the United States. It is not likely, though, that any of the advanced technologies in Tesla’s cars, including its Autopilot, was involved in the crash involving the second Tesla. However, it does provide more negative publicity and perhaps false credence to the idea that tech in cars is a bad thing.
Let me say that for people who drive or drive long ways to work, haul big loads as part of their job, or need to get far distances in a quick and reasonable amount of time, it makes sense to have a car, and it makes sense to have a car that is as technologically capable as possible. Plus, it’s really cool. It’s great that some cars can parallel park themselves now, or have an engine that turns on simply by the car connecting to a key fob. That kind of technology is great.
At the risk of sounding like a hippy, I’d like to advocate for your own two feet and bikes as a form of transportation for short rides, leisurely jaunts, or tasks and chores you are able to do. Not everyone has the ability to walk or bike, and that’s a reasonable point, but if you have the ability to, why not give the super cool and super useful high-tech car a break and get to back to basics in how you get around town.