Tesla AutopilotEnlarge Photo
Tesla [NSDQ:TSLA] on Sunday provided the first details on a software update that addresses some of the shortcomings of its semi-autonomous driving aid known as Autopilot. The company said the Version 8.0 update will be released in the next two weeks.
The changes included in the update were prompted following the death in May of a driver whose Model S crashed into a truck’s trailer on a Florida highway while in Autopilot mode. Autopilot’s first self-driving features were introduced in a Version 7.0 software update released in October 2015.
The latest version of Autopilot will prioritize data from onboard radar instead of cameras to help it sense the surrounding environment, including bouncing radar waves under a vehicle in front to see further ahead. Previously Autopilot prioritized camera data, with the radar serving as a supplementary sensor only, though this was insufficient in the case of the Florida crash due to the unique position of the trailer and sunlight reflecting off its white exterior.
Tesla Autopilot suite of features - with version 7.0 updateEnlarge Photo
The downside of radar is that it can inaccurately identify objects and obstacles, resulting in false alarms and potential unnecessary braking events. Tesla gives examples of the curved base of a soda can and overhead road signs. To improve accuracy, the system relies on cloud data gathered from other Autopilot users. It also takes multiple “snapshots” per second and compares this against vehicle velocity and expected path to determine whether an object ahead poses a threat.
It’s important to note that Autopilot remains in “public beta testing” and drivers are required to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road ahead. The update sees the system warning the driver more frequently should they fail to pay attention. Ignoring of repeated warnings will disengage Autopilot and prevent its use until the car is parked.
In addition to these critical changes, Tesla says there are over 200 other, smaller ones as part of the Version 8.0 update. Autopilot is a $3,000 option on a new Model S and Model X, or $3,500 if enabled after the vehicle has been delivered. It’s only available on vehicles built after October 2014.