Tesla to bring back Autopilot free trials as Musk teases on-ramp/off-ramp capabilities

Elon Musk teased several Autopilot developments during the recently-held 2018 Annual Shareholder Meeting. During his discussions, Musk revealed that soon, Tesla would be offering free trials of the intelligent driver-assist feature to customers who have not purchased Autopilot. Musk also stated that an upcoming Autopilot update would correspond to a “significant improvement” in the system.

“Yeah, we’re going to (offer Autopilot free trials), hopefully (by) next month. (We can) offer a free trial for people to try out Autopilot and see how well it works. We’re also making rapid progress on Autopilot technology,” Musk said.

Tesla has employed a similar Autopilot free trial program in the past, to much success. Back in 2016, we covered the experience of a Tesla owner during the Autopilot free trial period. During that time, however, Tesla was still utilizing the first iteration of the driver-assist system, before the electric car company and MobilEye decided to part ways. If Tesla does reintroduce Autopilot free trials next month, it would be the first time that the company uses the program to promote Enhanced Autopilot, the current iteration of its driver-assist system.

A message showing Tesla’s Autopilot free trial program back in 2016.

Apart from Autopilot free trials, Musk also mentioned that a new firmware update would be rolling out this coming week. Musk was particularly optimistic about the upcoming improvements in Autopilot, stating that over the next 6-12 months, the capability of the system should increase “exponentially.”

“There’s a new version of Autopilot that’s rolling out, I think, this week which I think is quite a significant improvement. What you’ll see is that the reliability and capability of Autopilot will increase exponentially over the next 6-12 months. The improvements are very, very rapid.”

Musk teased specific improvements to the driver-assist system as well. While addressing an inquiry from a member of the audience about Autopilot’s capability to switch freeways, Musk candidly mentioned the ability of Autopilot to perform highway on-ramp-to-off-ramp maneuvers.

“I was just testing that last night at about 1 a.m. I think we might be able to release something in a couple of months that can do that. We’ve been pursuing two paths. One really complicated path that I think isn’t working that great. And then a simple path that I think will work pretty well.”

“I was able to able to drive last night, going from highway on-ramp to highway off-ramp using the simplified version of the control system. And I think with some further effort, we can get that out in the next couple months.”

Tesla Model S on Autopilot successfully drives over a tricky, near-unmarked curve. [Credit: My Tesla Adventure/YouTube]

Elon Musk’s references to significant improvements in Autopilot might very well come to fruition. A notable jump in the system’s accuracy and capability, after all, has already happened earlier this year. Back in March, Tesla began rolling out v8.1 (2018.10.4), a firmware update that ultimately proved to be a considerable improvement over the system’s previous iteration. During that time, Tesla owners were pleased to find that the updated Autopilot suite was already capable of dealing with narrow roads, bad weather, and even streets without any lane markings.  

Built on the NVIDIA Drive PX2 AI computing platform, Tesla’s current Autopilot system is part of Elon Musk’s ambitious initiative to transform the company’s fleet of vehicles into a fully-autonomous form of transportation. Autopilot uses 8 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a forward-facing radar with enhanced processing capabilities to detect objects on the road. Artificial intelligence and a neural network are also utilized to allow the electric cars to learn from data collected from other vehicles in Tesla’s fleet. A custom AI chip is also under development. 

If Elon Musk’s forecasts for Autopilot during the 2018 Annual Shareholder Meeting prove accurate, then it might only be a matter of time before Tesla accomplishes its highly-anticipated coast-to-coast autonomous drive.

Tesla to bring back Autopilot free trials as Musk teases on-ramp/off-ramp capabilities
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