Elon Musk says Autopilot can have ‘significant improvements’ via software update

Tesla Autopilot Version 7.0 Dashboard Display [Source: Tesla Motors]
Tesla owners are given the ability to 'unlock' Autopilot as an optional upgrade after purchase

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that current Autopilot can see ‘significant improvements’ via an over-the-air software update. The announcement was made on Sunday after Musk took to Twitter to reveal that he had earlier talks with Bosch, maker of the radar equipment used on the Model S and Model X. Aside from feeling hopeful that the existing Autopilot system can be improved without hardware upgrades, Musk also thanked driver-assistance technology company MobilEye “for their help and support in making Autopilot better.”

When questioned about whether radar would be capable of detecting people – previous tests pitting a moving Tesla vs. a live human suggested that current versions of Autopilot were not great at detecting humans – Musk defended the company’s use of radar stating that radar can in fact detect humans at moderate range, however Tesla’s Autopilot suite also uses ultrasonic sensors which are “very good at human detection”.

Musk did not provide any details on when the next update of Autopilot would arrive, but did say that Tesla Version 8.0 would be the company’s largest software release since the first rollout of Autopilot 1.0.

Musk also took the opportunity to defend his position on Autopilot after Consumer Reports criticized Tesla for releasing the auto-steering feature within the Autopilot suite. CR along with mass media have continued to put pressure on the Silicon Valley automaker and energy company to reconsider the use of beta software after Joshua Brown was killed when his Model S driving on Autopilot collided with a tractor trailer.

Musk posted a link to the a great write up by a Tesla owner on TMC who shared his thoughts on Autopilot. He also tweeted praise on an article in The Guardian entitled “The First Self-Driving Car Fatality Proves Nothing.”, by John Naughton. The author quite correctly points out, “In the US, about 33,000 people are killed in automobile accidents every year. That’s 90 a day on average. So on 7 May, about 89 other people as well as Joshua Brown were killed in car crashes. But we heard nothing about those 89 personal and family tragedies: the only death that most people in the US heard about was Mr Brown’s.”

Media and even the US Senate want to get in on the Tesla bashing fun. The New York Times claims “the race by automakers and technology firms to develop self-driving cars has been fueled by the belief that computers can operate a vehicle more safely than human drivers. But that view is now in question after the revelation on Thursday that the driver of a Tesla Model S electric sedan was killed in an accident when the car was in self-driving mode.”

Really, asks Naughton? He refers to a recent report by the Rand Corporation that says, “[F]ully autonomous vehicles would have to be driven hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles to demonstrate their safety in terms of fatalities and injuries. Under even aggressive testing assumptions, existing fleets would take tens and sometimes hundreds of years to drive these miles — an impossible proposition if the aim is to demonstrate performance prior to releasing them for consumer use.

“Our findings demonstrate that developers of this technology and third-party testers cannot simply drive their way to safety. Instead, they will need to develop innovative methods of demonstrating safety and reliability. And yet, it may still not be possible to establish with certainty the safety of autonomous vehicles.

“Therefore, it is imperative that autonomous vehicle regulations are adaptive — designed from the outset to evolve with the technology so that society can better harness the benefits and manage the risks of these rapidly evolving and potentially transformative technologies.”

The hope here is that concerns about Autopilot do not turn into a media driven maelstrom. If Musk’s tweets are any indication, Tesla is laser-focused on bringing about its next generation Autopilot 2.0.

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