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Autopilot goes beta: Tesla running semiautonomous trials with Model S owners

Tesla Motors has big plans for the future, and zero-emissions vehicles are just the start. Not long ago, company CEO and technological wunderkind Elon Musk said his cars would be fully autonomous “in the five- or six-year time frame,” and his brand has taken yet another step toward a driverless future.

According to a report by Autoblog, the latest iteration of Tesla’s Autopilot feature (version 7.0) has been rolled out to a select number of Model S beta testers. The update includes highway auto-steer (essentially lane keeping) and automatic parallel parking, while also improving Tesla’s Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.

Version 7.0 doesn’t make the car fully autonomous of course, as the driver is still required to participate and many functions only work on well-marked highways. “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 recent earnings call. The CEO also stated the system works best when there is a car in front to track, but even when there are only lanes to read, it still works pretty well.

“It will get better over time as we refine the software,” Musk added.

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The Autopilot feature in the Model S utilizes a forward-looking camera, radar sensors, real-time traffic updates, and 360-degree sonar sensors to keep itself on the road. The necessary hardware has been included with the luxury sedan for some time now, so software updates will continue to push the vehicle’s autonomous capabilities forward. Eventually, Tesla says Model S drivers will be able to “summon” their vehicle with the push of a button, so long as they’re on private property.

Version 6.2 is available to the public currently, and it includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, valet mode, and automated notification of nearby charging locations. Version 7.0 is expected to roll out to the public later in 2015.