Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk announced the launch of Autopilot in October of last year. Tesla which is a pioneer in battery-powered luxury electric vehicles, introduced a system that allows hands-free operation of the steering wheel to some degree, a function that most traditional automakers aim to launch by as late as 2020.
The company announced an upgrade of the Autopilot feature only a day before the Detroit Auto Show was scheduled to kick off. While Tesla is unveiling semi-autonomous features, other car makers are just conventionally launching new models. One other car manufacturer, to have announced semi-autonomous driving capabilities is Swedish Autos Company Volvo who are debuting the new edition of the S90 luxury sedan with this technology.
Elon Musk emphasized on the Autopilot feature’s limitations as a beta mode product and strongly advised Tesla drivers against taking their hands off the wheel. However, he did say that the system was possibly much better equipped to handle highway driving than the average human using the company’s high-end radars, cameras and mapping systems.
On Sunday, Tesla Motors announced plans to update the Autopilot driving system, which is presently available exclusively in its Model S vehicles, by putting new limits to the assist functions by redefining the functions of the hands-free operation. This could mean that the EV manufacture would restrict the function on roads without a center division or residential areas which would consequently limit the speed limit of the car to a painfully slow pace.
While Musk talked about a new feature that allows the car to slow down in anticipation of a curve on the highway, he did not fail to remind everyone in the audience, how perfectly safe the Autopilot is in its current state. The reason for the update is more rooted more in the possibility of people not acting appropriately rather than system incompetency.
Another exciting new feature the company’s CEO Elon Musk spoke about is the ‘Summon’ feature which he ambitiously claimed would allow Tesla users to remotely call their cars from New York to Las Vegas by 2018. On a more humble note, the feature allows Model S drivers to park their cars remotely or in perpendicular parking spots.
While Tesla’s Autopilot feature is no small innovation, some people might argue it is a tad bit ahead of its time. There is a significant trend of opinion that suggests Tesla should have waited to perfect the technology before launching it to the public rather than launching a beta version and then later update it on the go. However, the company’s expertise in software nullifies that notion given their prompt over-the-air software upgrades for glitches and fixes.
Mark Reuss, GM’s global product development, in a statement at the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Vegas condemned over-the-air updates for safety critical systems such as braking and steering.
It will be quite interesting to see the added capabilities of the Autopilot feature as we wait on Tesla to curb the system to be more adequate for public use. However, in defense of Tesla’s technology, the only thing that needs to be worked on is to limit the effect of inappropriate human behavior towards situations rather than computer incompetence to operate in critical moments.