Technology in Focus: Tesla's Autopilot
What is it?
The first major delivery of Tesla’s autonomous vehicle functions for the Model S and Model X. Autopilot is said to take control of the tedious and dangerous aspects of the journey, as per its aviation namesake, but ultimately leaves the driver in charge of the car.
What can it do?
Since last October, Tesla has offered its cars with forward radar and camera systems, 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors which have a 16-foot range around the car, and a digitally-controlled braking system. These enable it to monitor its surroundings while travelling, and are combined with GPS data layered over detailed maps, even including separate motorway lanes.
Autopilot is part of an over-the-air software update, using the sensors and cameras to add a number of semi-autonomous features. Some are familiar, such as steering into parking spaces, helping to avoid collisions, lane-keeping and active cruise control. Tesla’s system can also change lanes with a tap of the indicator once it detects a suitable gap, and pre-warn of side collisions or vehicles in too-close proximity.
What makes this unique?
It’ll keep evolving. The system will learn, based on real-time data from the way drivers interact with it, how to use the road better. Because the Model S and Model X software is updated over the air, features available from launch can be fine-tuned and rolled out very quickly.
The carmaker also has hinted that it will progressively add more functionality with future versions. In the long term, combined with other features, the car could drive itself out of the garage, remotely opening then closing the door, then park on the driveway, warming the cabin ready for your commute.