For the past couple of months car companies have been moving towards cars that drive for themselves.
Tesla Motors, in its most ambitious step toward self-driving cars, is rolling out a long-awaited software package called Autopilot for its Model S sedan, rivaling features from luxury brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Autopilot, which will be downloaded to Tesla’s cars using an over-the-air software update starting tonight, includes a sophisticated version of cruise control that allows the Model S to follow a lane on the highway and change lanes when the driver flicks the turn signal level. It also includes an automatic parallel parking feature that detects an open parking space and takes control of the wheel and pedals if the driver asks for the car to park itself.
“We’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case, because the software is still at an early stage,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters during a press conference today. “It’s important that people exercise caution at the beginning,” he added, but “in the long term, people will not need to have their hands on the wheel, and eventually, there won’t be wheels.”
Tesla has been working on Autopilot since 2013, when it started assembling its team of automated driving engineers. Last year Tesla started building the Model S with the necessary hardware for autopilot — a forward-looking camera, long-range radar and ultrasonic sensors — in anticipation of today’s software update.
Since then, Tesla has built about 60,000 cars with Autopilot hardware. Customers must pay a one-time fee of $2,500 to activate the self-driving software when they buy a car, or $3,000 to activate the feature after delivery.
As part of Tesla’s new Version 7.0 software package, Autopilot will be beamed down to cars in the United States over the next week, followed by Europe and Asia. Tesla’s new Model X crossover, which is at the early stages of a production ramp-up at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., will also offer Version 7.0 and Autopilot.