Tesla Autopilot Releases Software Update with “Autopilot”
This week, Tesla began the process of wirelessly updating the software in all Model S and Model X vehicles to version 7.0. The update provides a restyled operating system and climate controls, as well a few new apps for the instrument panel. Drivers will also be given the option of a fee-based upgrade to Tesla’s Autopilot system, which provides automated driving features.
For a one-time fee of $3,000, Tesla owners who took ownership since about October 2014 can activate Autopilot, which automatically steers the car in its lane and even changes lanes when the vehicle’s sensors detect a safe path. Tesla warns customers to keep their hands on the wheel while the system is engaged, since the technology is still in its early stages. Nonetheless, early media testers report being able to drive for miles without actively steering.
The software update also allows Teslas to autonomously parallel-park using the AutoPark feature. The carmaker said that a future version of its software will be able to park its vehicles in a garage after a driver has left the vehicle, and use a smartphone command to summon a car from a garage to meet the driver.
Tesla is one among many car companies offering autonomous driving features, with varying degrees of automation. Mercedes and Volvo, among others, offer high-priced lane-keeping and forward collision warning and avoidance systems similar to what Tesla is introducing.
Is Self-Charging Next?
Even non-luxury carmakers are getting in on the action. Some visitors to General Motors’s technical center in Warren, Mich. are chauffeured through the campus in a fully autonomous Chevy Volt. Chevy has no timetable for bringing this technology to market, but the new 2016 edition of the Volt offers a range of low-level autonomous features. Blind spot, lane departure, and collision alerts, as well as automatic parking and accident-avoidance breaking are already available. Select Ford vehicles, including its plug-in hybrids, offer self-parking features.
Meanwhile, Google’s fleet of fully autonomous test vehicles have logged more than 2 million miles without a major incident. This creates a hope that one day the more than 33,000 annual traffic fatalities in the United States could be significantly reduced by automated driving features.
But the utility of autonomous driving goes beyond safety and has direct implications for plug-in vehicles. Earlier this year, Volkswagen demonstrated a technology in development that allows an E-Golf test vehicle to drop off a passenger, and then find the nearest charging station to replenish its battery using either inductive charging or a robotic arm that functions as a charge cable.
Jokes about VW’s trustworthiness aside, this capability could be a major advancement for EVs, allowing many drivers who don’t own their own home—and commuters who don’t have access to workplace charging—to conveniently charge their vehicles without having to worry about getting to and from the nearest charging station.
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