A Glimpse into the Future: Driverless Cars Have Arrived

teslaBy Naazaneen Hodjat

To much fanfare, Tesla Motors announced the release of its Autopilot version 7.0 which effectively allows its Model S to use a “combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic.” Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk, describes the Autopilot program as a “profound experience for its drivers” —one that “when owners try it out and see the car drive [by itself] they’re blown away.”

The Tesla Autopilot program aims to increase the driver’s confidence behind the wheel by reducing the driver’s workload and helping the car avoid hazards—significantly improving driver safety. Its Autosteer technology allows for hands-free and pedal-free driving on the highway. The new program, however, does not read traffic lights or poorly marked roads and is programmed to relinquish control back to the driver if it loses confidence in its ability to drive safely. The Autopilot also contains an Auto Lane Change feature—the driver must simply engage the turn signal and the Autopilot will move itself over to the adjacent lane when it is safe to do so. Finally, the program has an Autopark function that enables the car to scan the surroundings of a parking spot and parallel park itself. Although the Autopilot program allows Tesla sedans to steer and park themselves, Musk warns that Tesla drivers are expected to stay engaged while driving. In fact, owners are instructed to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. Tesla cautions drivers against trusting its Autopilot program too much and reminds drivers that they are still responsible.

Musk claims that Tesla’s Autopilot program is distinguishable from its competitors because it is programmed to improve over time. Tesla’s new Autopilot system uses cutting edge technology, which allows it to constantly learn and improve. “[T]he whole Tesla fleet operates as a network. When one car learns something, they all learn it.” Each driver becomes an “expert trainer in how the autopilot should work.” The Tesla network uses machine learning algorithms to upload “data to the central server, where it can be collected, do system analysis, and then feed back into the cars.” As a result, Tesla owners can expect the performance of their cars to improve each week.

This program is the first step towards driverless technology. Musk hopes that Tesla will have full autonomy within three years and that its cars will be able to drive “from your driveway to work without you touching anything.” However, Tesla acknowledges that even if the technology becomes available, there will be significant regulatory hurdles to face, which likely could take years. Regulators will want to see data that demonstrates that self-driving cars actually work and are safe. Nonetheless, Tesla has shared an exciting glimpse into the future of driverless cars.

Image source: http://www.teslamotors.com/blog.

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