Tesla's 'Autopilot' feature has gone live for a limited number of beta testers

Tesla Autopilot
Screen capture Tesla

I, for one, welcome our new car-robot overlords

Elon Musk recently mentioned that a new software update for the Tesla Model S would include the activation of some of the self-driving 'Autopilot' that the company has been working on for a while, in this case namely highway autosteer and parallel autopark.

But before going live to all Tesla owners (at least those who own a recent-enough version of the car to have the sensors required for these features), the company has started testing the features on select beta testers.

Tesla AutopilotTesla/Promo image

Of course, these are early days for these types of features and the goal, at this point, is not to allow the driver to stop paying attention.

Elon Musk has always said that Autopilot and Autosteer are there to assist drivers, by taking care of routine tasks, but not to replace them. Drivers will be required to touch the turn signal control occasionally to indicate they are still attentive and actively monitoring their journey.

“We don’t want to set the expectation that you can basically pay no attention to what the car is doing,” Musk said in a conference call last week. He also indicated the system was particularly at home when tracking a lead vehicle. (source)

Full autonomy will no doubt come someday, but it'll require a lot of further refinements to the technology to make it significantly safer than a human driver; we might think we're good, but compared to computers with instant reflexes and unblinking sensors looking at everything 360 degrees around, and the ability to communicate wirelessly between vehicles to coordinate, we're probably very far from what an optimal "driver" should be.

But before we get to that point, regulators and the general public will have to be convinced, so there will be long periods of testing and demonstration

Tesla Model S 70D© Tesla

Once autonomous cars arrive, the question is: Will Tesla partner with companies like Uber to create "rides as a service", something that might greatly reduce car ownership and make the cars that are on the road much more useful to society (rather than being parked 90% of the time)? Or maybe Tesla will bypass Uber and start its own EV-for-hire service, as I speculated about recently.

As a bonus, here's a view from a Tesla Model S being assembled at the Tesla factory in Fremont:

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles

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