Could Tesla’s zero-emission Model S soon require zero-effort from drivers when it comes to traveling down the highway? That’s the plan, according to CEO Elon Musk.
The New York Times reports that Musk announced this week that Tesla would introduce autonomous technology to its electric vehicles via a software update this summer.
The software update would give the Model S the ability to start driving itself in what the company calls an autopilot mode. But the ability to take Model S hands-free would only be available on “major roads” like highways, Musk says.
Tesla has been testing the autopilot system on a route from San Francisco to Seattle.
Musk says the summer-time software update also includes programs that allow owners to summon the vehicle via smartphone and enable the Model S to park itself – but only on private property.
The Times reports that while Tesla’s new technology would be a big step toward a more widely used autonomous driving, it could be a violation of current laws.
“There’s a reason other automakers haven’t gone there,” Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book tells the Times. “Best case scenario, it’s unclear. If you’re an individual that starts doing it, you’d better hope nothing goes wrong.”
A spokesperson for Tesla says the company doesn’t see any conflict between the autopilot system and current regulations.
“We’re not getting rid of the pilot,” the spokesperson says. “This is about releasing the driver from tedious tasks so they can focus and provide better input.”
Earlier this week at the 2015 GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, CA, Musk said that driverless cars will eventually be as commonplace as elevators without operators.
“We’ll take autonomous cars for granted in quite a short time,” Musk explained to NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang at the conference. “I almost view it as a solved problem. We know what to do, and we’ll be there in a few years.”
Before this summer’s expected software update, Tesla says it will initiate other upgrades in the next few weeks including the addition of automatic emergency braking and blind-spot and side-collision warnings.
In recent years, tech companies and automakers have stepped up efforts to produce driver-less cars.
Back in December, Google said its first complete self-driving car prototype was ready for road tests.
Before that, in September, Audi received a permit to test its self-driving vehicle on public California roads. In January, the company’s Audi A7 sedan completed the longest driver-less journey, traveling from near San Francisco to Las Vegas.
Although several industry analysts have questioned the safety and liability of self-driving cars, a report released earlier this month estimates the autonomous vehicles could eliminate 90% of car accidents in the U.S. when the technology become commonplace. But that likely won’t happen for at least 15 years, the study reported.
Elon Musk Says Self-Driving Tesla Cars Will Be in the U.S. by Summer [The New York Times]