One day in the near future, you will look out your car’s window and see something you’ve never seen before — a fully driverless vehicle on a public road. There may be a man reading a newspaper in the driver’s seat or perhaps a family lounging in the back, nobody at the wheel save for a computer. That future is coming … and vehicles with the technology to do it are already roaming the streets.
Most of those vehicles are Teslas, because the automaker announced Wednesday evening that its entire fleet — including the $35,000 Model 3 — will be fitted with a full suite of self-driving hardware. These tools are the eyes and ears of the car, and in this context it includes eight surround cameras with 360-degree visibility, twelve ultrasonic sensors, forward-facing radar, and a new onboard computer to analyze all the data. With these instruments, Tesla believes its cars will be safer than even the best human driver.
That said, hardware is only one half of the equation.
Before bringing the new hardware online, Tesla admits that further calibration of its Autopilot software is needed to “ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience.” The announcement comes at an interesting time for Tesla, because Autopilot is under more scrutiny now than ever before.
“Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses,” Tesla said.
As the automaker tweaks its software by analyzing real-world driving miles, it’s important to note that certain features like automatic emergency breaking, collision warning, lane holding, and active cruise control will be temporarily unavailable on vehicles with first-gen Autopilot hardware. Perhaps this is Tesla’s version of taking one step back to take two steps forward.
When it’s all said and done, Elon Musk and Co. believe their cars will be able to detect objects at nearly twice the distance of the original system, and the improved radar processing will allow their cars to “see” through dense objects like rain, fog, and even other automobiles. They’ll be able to drive themselves safely and quietly in almost any condition, while also talking to other cars to keep their occupants safe.
In other words, the future is now.