Elon Musk tweeted on recently that the next round of Tesla Enhanced Autopilot updates will be rolled out on Monday. The system has been limited to operating in shadow mode since the company began installing the latest hardware package — known as Hardware 2 internally — on all cars built after October 19. The Model S and Model X production lines were shut down for about 10 days during the fourth quarter to make allow for the equipment changeover to take place.
The new Tesla Enhanced Autopilot system is significantly different in operation from the Autopilot system used by the company since October of 2015. That system was based on the Hardware 1 package. The new system utilizes 8 cameras, including one with three lenses, a forward facing radar, and 12 second generation ultrasonic sensors. In all, the new hardware feeds a lot more data to the car’s self driving computer, which is now provided by Nvidia. The company calls it a “supercomputer in a box” and says it is 40 times more powerful than the computer used in Hardware 1 cars.
If all looks good, HW2 Autopilot functionality will switch from shadow to active mode by end of week for cars beyond initial 1000
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2017
All those changes meant that the new Tesla Enhanced Autopilot system could not benefit directly from the more than 1.3 billion miles of data Tesla had already accumulated from its first generation cars. Therefore, the new system was limited at first to operation in Shadow Mode, in which the computer collected data and compared what human drivers did while driving with what the computer would have done if it were in control.
All that data was sent back to Tesla headquarters to be analyzed by the company’s software engineers. When they were satisfied that the new system was operating as intended, 1,000 selected Tesla owners received an over the air software update activating some of the features of the new Tesla Enhanced Autopilot system. Now those same 1,000 volunteer beta testers will receive the next round of upgrades while the first round will be shared with all Hardware 2 equipped cars later this week.
The rollout of Enhanced Autopilot features will continue as the company receives more real world driving data from Hardware 2 equipped cars. Eventually, every car with the new hardware will have Enhanced Autopilot fully enabled. Elon Musk has indicated that the company will conduct a demonstration of the new hardware and software package later this year. It says a Tesla will drive from Los Angeles to New York City without human intervention, drop the occupants off in downtown Manhattan, then go park itself in an available space.
That demonstration is intended to impress regulators with how safe and reliable the self driving system is. Hopefully, a successful demonstration will convince federal and state regulators to approve the Hardware 2 equipped Teslas for full Level 5 autonomous driving. So far, only Michigan has passed legislation permitting the sale of self driving cars directly to the public. Oddly enough, the very same state bitterly opposes Tesla’s direct to consumer sales model.
How can the same state be so progressive on the one hand and so reactionary on the other? Tesla has sued Michigan in federal court alleging that its ban on direct sales is unconstitutional. That suit is still in process.
On a side note, Enhanced Autopilot is currently limited to the posted speed limit in urban driving. Musk tweets that an increase in permitted speeds will be coming along shortly. He also says owners of cars with the Hardware 1 package will also benefit from the coming upgrades without specifying what will change for them.
Longitudinal control will, but lateral (steering) control will cap at 35 mph for a bit longer. Will raise after full fleet data rolls in.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2017
There is no question that Elon Musk, faced with competition in self driving technology from Uber, Volvo, Ford, BMW, GM, Mercedes, and several other companies, intends to have the first fully autonomous cars on the market. Every car produced with the Hardware 2 package will be capable of full self driving operation as soon as regulators give the go ahead. Tesla has two big advantages over its rivals.
First, it will soon have billions of miles of real world data to verify the functionality of its system. Second, its cars don’t have any of the ugly exterior bumps and bubbles the others use on their cars. It’s a safe bet that customers who want a car capable of full autonomous operation will prefer a Tesla simply because it looks normal and not some refugee from the set of Lost In Space.
Below is a video from a Tesla owner who was one of the 1,000 beta tester showing his Tesla actually reprogramming itself while driving. Pretty interesting stuff.
Source and photo credit: Teslarati