A new software update deployed yesterday by Tesla Motors has given its cars significant autonomous driving capabilities.
Called ‘Tesla Autopilot’, this software update gives the company’s Model S electric vehicle the ability to drive autonomously on highways.
When the mode is active, the car is able to follow lanes on large roads and adjust its speed in order to keep pace with other cars. As well, when a driver indicates, the car can change lanes on its own accord.
In addition to this functionality when driving, the car also now has an automatic parallel parking function that enables the car to park itself without driver input.
In order to make use of this functionally, new Tesla Model S vehicles feature a forward-facing radar and camera, in addition to 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet (5m) around the car in every direction.
Similar technologies are already available in certain BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars, and Tesla is keen to stress that this is still an intermediate step on the road to fully autonomous vehicles.
“While truly driverless cars are still a few years away, Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear. The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car,” the company explained in a press release.
CEO Elon Musk also urged drivers to exercise caution with the new software.
“We’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case, because the software is still at an early stage,” said Musk during a press conference.
While there is a large amount of discussion within the auto industry over the implications of fully self-driving cars, vehicles like the Model S pose similar problems.
Future updates to the software of this car, as well as those of its competitors, could allow autonomous capabilities for the vast majority of driving conditions.
In such an environment, questions of liability, regulation, insurance and other legal issues begin to become more present.
With such abilities only one or two years away, governments would do well to fast-track laws to govern the proper use of these vehicles.