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Elon Musk Says Every New Tesla Can Drive Itself

23 Octobre 2016 - Wired.com

Elon Musk Says Every New Tesla Can Drive Itself

Elon Musk wants you to take your hands off the wheel, foot off the gas, and let him do the driving. Rather, let his cars take over.

At a press conference, he announced that every new Tesla will be fully capable of driving itself. After being upgraded with a suite of cameras and sensors, Musk says this means his cars will have the potential for level 5 autonomy—the highest level, which requires zero interaction from the driver.

The current generation of Tesla’s Autopilot is really just advanced cruise control. It can keep the car in its own lane, and avoid driving into the vehicle in front. But try to get off the freeway, let alone navigate down a honking commercial boulevard, and the autopilot is back in driver’s ed.

Tesla hopes its ghost in the machine will be fully ready by the end of next year, and the proof will be a cross country road trip. Musk said he could have a Tesla pick someone up from their home in LA and drop them off in the bright lights of Times Square, New York—then park itself. “It will do this without the need for a single touch, including the charger,” says Musk.

New cars rolling out of Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory will now have eight cameras—up from just one—for full 360 degree vision. Tesla has upgraded the ultrasonic sensors around the car’s perimeter, too. And the vehicles have a new computer, boosting the processing power by a factor of 40. “It’s basically a supercomputer in a car,” says Musk. And that’s in addition to updated GPS, inertial measurement unit, and other parts of the self-driving central nervous system. All this will be included in the new, more affordable, Model 3, too.

But not for free. As with Tesla’s current “Autopilot convenience features,” turning on that functionality comes at a cost—$8000, up from $3000—even though the hardware upgrades will come standard.

Tesla has been criticized for rolling out autonomous features before the technology is proven. Consumer Reports said Tesla’s autopilot upgrades were “too much, too soon“. Just this week, the German government asked the company to stop using the term autopilot, saying that it gives drivers too much confidence, and makes them think the car is more capable than it really is.

Musk ain’t hearing all that. Instead of taking a step back, these upgrades are him taking a tire-squealing lurch forward. Full autonomy has always been his end goal, because he asserts it will save lives. This despite the highly publicized death of a Tesla autopilot passenger in Florida earlier this year. Musk says that is nothing compared to the over 1.2 million people die annually in car accidents when humans are in control. Musk chastised reporters on a press call, saying that if their reporting dissuades people from using autonomous vehicles “then you are killing people.”

As always, Elon Musk is incredibly bullish about his timeframes. Tesla’s fully autonomous cars will have to be able to avoid pedestrians, deal with busses pulling out, recognize construction workers holding signs, avoid kids running into the street, find parking, swerve to avoid that cyclist that just appeared out of nowhere, and solve every other—practically infinite—complicated driving scenario, to be considered truly level 5. Google has been working towards that same goal since 2009, and is still refining and reworking its the software that pilots its cars around certain cities. That company’s robo-cars recently hit a cumulative 2 million miles, and it is still pretty cagey about a full roll out.

Not that Tesla is going from zero to 60 on this; the company learns a bunch from its full fleet of vehicles. Every car, even those in customers’ hands, collects data and sends it back to the company’s headquarters, where engineers analyze and refine the system. Still, the major automakers like Ford, Mercedes, and others are giving a 2020 to 2025 timeframe for their cars to become self-driving.

Musk admits his roll-out will be slow. Cars with the new tech will actually have fewer features than current Teslas. Active cruise control and lane holding (which make up the current Autopilot) won’t work until the cars have collectively racked up millions of miles of real-world driving.

Then, Tesla will update those features with over-the-air updates. The newer vehicles should be as capable as the existing ones by December, Musk says. Stand by: Musk has a track record of missing his own deadlines—even those that are self-imposed, and self-assessed to be lenient.

Then, if you believe it, comes the truly tricky part: Advanced self-driving. But not all at once. The cars will start small, perhaps by recognizing traffic lights first, and then graduating to four-way stops. Each feature will enter alpha road trials—which include on Musk’s own car—only after meeting standards set by Tesla’s engineers.

Only then will the updates be pushed to a wider group of cars. But still, the features will run in the background—so-called “shadow mode”—where the computer compares the actions it would have taken to what the driver does. Eventually, once Tesla engineers deem the software is safer than a human driver, the computer will have the power to take full control.

Automotive engineers agree that self driving cars will come sooner or later. Musk just wants to make it sooner. Much sooner.

 

 

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