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Tesla’s semi-autonomous ‘Autopilot’ system goes live in three months

Tesla has been shipping Model S electric cars equipped with the hardware for its “Autopilot” semi-autonomous system for months now, but hasn’t released the requisite software.

Today, during a press call for a different software update intended to curtail range anxiety, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the wait is almost over.

The system will go live in “about three months,” The Verge reports Musk as saying.

Announced last fall at the launch of the all-wheel drive Model S “D” variants, Autopilot will essentially allow cars to steer themselves.

“We can basically go between San Francisco and Seattle without the driver doing anything,” Musk said.

Related: Delphi’s autonomous Audi SQ5 sets off on a cross-country road trip

However, that may not be how things go initially.

Musk has hinted that the system can evolve into something that can take over all driving duties, but for now it will be a bit more limited.

Drivers will only be able to engage the system on highways, and it will only control a car’s steering. The meat bag behind it will still need to be awake and alert.

Musk boasted that the system is “technically capable of going from parking lot to parking lot,” but said production cars won’t be that autonomous, owing to concerns over the unpredictability of crowded city or suburban streets.

As he said when Autopilot was first announced, Musk promised that drivers will eventually be able to summon their unmanned Model S sedans to pick them up, or park themselves.

However, that level of autonomy is technically illegal on many public roads, so its use would be restricted to private property.

Musk doesn’t think Autopilot can replace an alert driver, though, noting that even with the system on, there’s an expectation that said driver is paying attention.

The announcement comes shortly after Musk stated that he believes self-driving cars will eventually lead to a ban on human drivers, although that’s not something he endorses.