Against the backdrop of last week’s news of a May 7 fatality involving a Tesla Model S running on Autopilot, Tesla will soon roll out out a highly-anticipated release of the Autopilot software, reports Electrek. The timing of the upgrade will undoubtedly now draw some public attention, but details of the new release and its anticipated deployment were previously reported by Electrek and elsewhere.
Autopilot 8.0 is expected to download in the next few weeks to approximately 80,000 Tesla vehicles. Autopilot 8.0 will add some new features and strengthen others. The new software is considered a major update, but it will still be a hands-on-the-wheel assisted driving program that requires drivers to be able to take over control of the vehicle on a moment’s notice.
The results of an investigation of the fatal accident by Florida law enforcement and a preliminary investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are still forthcoming. There are plenty of contradictory stories flying, however, about the whether Joshua Brown was watching a Harry Potter film on a portable DVD player, the speed at which the car was moving, and even Brown’s age.
There have also been conflicting stories about whether the car was designed to avoid a vehicle coming in from the side. Tesla autopilot supplier Mobileye said its system in the 2015 Model S only looks forward. Tesla’s Elon Musk, however, has since stated that the Mobileye technology is only part of sensor and Autopilot system. He stated that the side sensors would have detected the truck but because of its plain white surface and height, the system may have confused it with a highway sign. Regardless, the autonomous system did not prevent the accident, nor did the driver.
This accident, reportedly the first fatality in 130 million aggregate miles of driving with Autopilot engaged, has raised several questions about the rush to self-driving technology. There is a question about releasing a beta system for use on public roads, even if users are informed. Another question is whether the technology worked as designed. Another, and perhaps the greatest question of all, concerns whether people can “collaborate” safely with driver-assisted vehicles.
The evidence of too many people recording videos as they self-test the Tesla’s ability to drive itself is as disheartening as it is scary. In some cases, videos show people testing their Teslas by having friends jump in front of the moving car to see if it will stop.
It’s worthy of note that Joshua Brown had a near-accident a month before the fatality, and in the prior incident, he credited Autopilot for saving his life by successfully maneuvering to safety when a boom truck whose driver apparently didn’t see Brown’s car cut into and across his lane. Brown showed a video of the event and, after crediting Autopilot for saving him, still asserted that drivers had to be ready to take control, that Autopilot was not ready yet to fully control cars.
Autopilot 8.0, as announced, will have a new user interface, automatic off-ramp driving, routing based on remaining energy in the car’s batteries, and new navigation, route planning, and media handling. There will also be an update of the whole Autopilot feature set based on the accumulated one billion plus miles of driving data transmitted by Tesla cars with Autopilot hardware, whether engaged or not.
An even more significant upgrade to the Tesla autonomous feature set will be Autopilot 2.0, which will include hardware in the form of a new sensor suite which will enable more driver-assisted and autonomous driving. No date has been announced for Autopilot 2.0.