True autonomous driving will require far better electronic maps than any that currently exist. Google and Apple have been creating digital maps for some time, each serving its purpose to provide location-based information and directions to humans. But when it comes to self-driving cars, the vehicle will require much more detailed information than what’s currently available through today’s lower quality maps.
Tesla has a an idea on how to build the next generation of maps for its family of Autopilot enabled vehicles. Instead of sending out a dedicated fleet of mapping cars like Google does, Tesla will use cloud technology built into its Version 7.0 software to gather reams of data directly from its Model S and Model X owners. Using an array of radars, cameras and sonar equipment that’s installed on Autopilot-enabled Teslas, the company will be able to leverage crowd sourced data from its owners to create the most accurate and detailed maps ever made.
Did the city of Amsterdam install a new traffic light overnight? Did the city of San Jose change the lane markings on Silver Creek Road recently? The Tesla cloud will know and share that information in real-time with every other Tesla in the world. Elon Musk calls this a “fleet learning network” where all of its cars contribute to a shared database. “When one car learns something, all learn,” said Musk.
Musk focused on a section of Interstate 405 in California, a heavily traveled highway with lanes that are often poorly marked. Using information provided by other Tesla drivers who have traveled this specific section of road, Tesla Autopilot can still function with confidence, even in the absence of clear lane markings.
The mapping process is already far along, thanks to data supplied by those cars that participated in the beta testing of the Version 7.0 software. Notice how incredibly detailed this digital map of San Francisco is. As more and more data is acquired by Tesla automobiles in the weeks and months to come, the precision of that data will only get better.
Musk believes true autonomous driving is 5 to 6 years away. There are legal and regulatory hurdles to clear first. But when the time comes, Tesla will possess the best digital maps of any car company and, once again, Musk and company will be years ahead of the competition.