Tesla announces fully autonomous vehicles

Tesla has announced that from this week onwards, all vehicles produced in its factory will have the hardware the necessary for fully autonomous driving.

According to Tesla, eight surround cameras will provide 360 degree visibility around the car at a range of up to 250 metres. Cars will also see the addition of twelve updated ultrasonic sensors, which will allow for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system.

Furthermore, a forward-facing radar with enhanced processing will provide “additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead,” according to Tesla.

To interpret this data, a new onboard computer with “more than 40 times the computing power of the previous generation” will run the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software.

Tesla believes this system will “go far beyond the human senses”.

Below is a video of a fully autonomous Model X driving to a destination, navigating busy intersections and handling turns before reverse parellel parking.

These new autonomous features however, will not actually be activated until the system is calibrated via millions of kilometres of real-world driving.

During this period, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware. Some of these features include automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control.

As the system is calibrated, features will be enabled via over-the-air software updates. Some of these updates will also include first-generation Autopilot and earlier cars.

Following the announcement, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked if Tesla would be liable if one it its driverless cars gets into an accident.

“No, I think that would be up to the individual’s insurance,” said Musk.

“If it is something endemic to our design, certainly we would take our responsibility for that.”

Explaining further, Musk compared the situation with broken elevators.

“Point of views on autonomous cars are much like being stuck in an elevator in a building,” he said.

“Does Otis (an elevator company) take responsibility for all elevators around the world? No, they don’t.”

The question remains as to what would actually be deemed responsible for the crash of a fully autonomous car, if not a fault in the system, and how insurance premiums will be affected in future.