Tesla’s latest over-the-air update lets its cars change lanes on their own

Novitec Tesla Model X

Tesla countered disappointing news about its first-quarter sales by announcing it’s rolling out an Autopilot update that lets compatible cars change lanes on their own, with or without the driver’s permission. The feature builds on an earlier update of the semi-autonomous software that told the driver when it thought the car should be changing lanes and waited for confirmation.

The California-based company published a blog post to explain owners have logged 66 million miles since it introduced Navigate on Autopilot, and they have approved 9 million lane-change requests. The data gathered and analyzed over the past few months made Tesla comfortable with the idea of allowing its cars to change lanes on their own. Drivers can enable the feature by accessing the “Autopilot settings” menu via the car’s touchscreen, and then pressing the button labeled “Customize Navigate on Autopilot.”

There are several available settings. Drivers who want their car to automatically change lanes on its own can turn off the confirmation option. Those who prefer receiving a warning before the car makes a move can ask it to emit visual and audible alerts. Tesla points out owners whose car was made after August 2017 can also request the steering wheel to vibrate before the car changes lanes. The warnings give motorists time to look around them and cancel the lane change (by tapping a pop-up box on the touchscreen or moving the turn signal stalk) if needed.

The new feature adds an additional degree of autonomy to all Tesla models, including the Model S, the Model X, and the Model 3. Tesla stresses it doesn’t turn its cars into driverless vehicles and motorists need to remain alert at all times.

“This feature does not make a car autonomous, and lane changes will only be made when a driver’s hands are detected on the wheel,” it warned.

Tesla owners who purchased Enhanced Autopilot or Full Self-Driving Capability when they ordered their car have already started receiving the new version of Navigate on Autopilot via an over-the-air software update. As of writing, the feature is only available in the United States. It will spread to other markets — assuming it’s allowed by local regulators — “in the future,” according to Tesla.

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