Tesla drivers in North America will be able to update their car software to include an “autopilot” mode. The new feature does not turn cars into completely self-driving machines, but it does aim to help drivers in dangerous situations as well as relieve them from some of the tedious stages of driving.
Tesla’s approach to self-driving technology has been incremental. Since last October, the manufacturer has included in its Model S car “a forward radar, a forward-looking camera, 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned to detect 5 meters (16 feet) around the car in every direction at all speeds, and a high-precision, digitally-controlled electric assist braking system.” The software will interpret all this data and then perform functions such as steering down the highway, changing lanes and adjusting the speed of the vehicle in traffic.
The autopilot function is not a substitute for the driver, but Tesla Motors believes it will boost drivers’ confidence. The car can help avoid collisions by controlling motors, brakes and steering. It can also help when it comes to parking as it can scan for available spots and parallel park on command.
Although the software could have a significant benefit to drivers, it is still limited. At a media event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said: “Essentially it’s like a person – how well can a person figure out what route they should take. Over time, it will be better than a person. Long term it will be way better than a person. It never gets tired, it’s never had anything to drink, it’s never arguing with someone in the car. It’s not distracted.”
Several automobile manufacturers are investing in the development of autonomous features in their cars, and Google has been testing driverless cars for several years in the hope of making them available to the public in 2020.