Tesla To Make New Cars Self-Driving, Won’t Actually Turn The System On

Tesla’s vehicles already come with Autopilot, a semi-autonomous, assisted steering feature that is not fully hands-off. But in the not so distant future, the electric carmaker plans to equip all of its cars with fully autonomous driving capabilities. 

However, don’t expect to actually use the feature even if your car has it, Tesla announced in a blog on Wednesday, noting that the fully autonomous option will remain turned off while further testing is completed.

The new system, which doesn’t yet have a catchy name like the recently scrutinized Autopilot, will take things up a level from the company’s current option.

Currently, Autopilot will let vehicles “steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control.” It also has other features, like auto-braking, collision avoidance, and automated parallel parking.

The new feature, which Elon Musk likened to a “supercomputer in a car,” will be fully autonomous. Think: having a car pick you up and drop you off without you ever touching the vehicle’s parts.

The system will feature eight surround cameras that provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car; 12 ultrasonic sensors that will allow for the detection of objects at nearly twice the distance of the current Autopilot system; and a forward-facing radar that can process driving conditions such as fog, rain, and dust.

The future vehicles — which will include Tesla’s current lineup of the Model S, Model X, and upcoming Model 3 — will each have a new onboard computer to process the cameras and sensors.

“Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses,” the company says.

Despite the pumped-up feature, Tesla says in the blog that the system won’t actually be turned on anytime soon.

“Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving,” the company said. It’s unclear when the system will actually hit the road, either for testing or real world use.

Tesla has been under increased scrutiny over the Autopilot feature following a fatal collision in Florida this summer. It’s since been confirmed that while the driver was going around 10 miles per hour over the speed limit at the time, the Autopilot feature was engaged.

The car maker said in July that it would not disable Autopilot, but a number of consumer safety advocates — including our colleagues at Consumer Reports — have called Tesla out for the potentially confusing messages surrounding the Autopilot feature.

In August, the owner of a Tesla in Beijing said he crashed the vehicle into a the side of a vehicle that was partially parked in the road while using the feature. Tesla says the driver is to blame for taking his hands off the wheel, while the driver says he was misled about the Autopilot feature.

Shortly after the incident, Tesla said it removed that word, along with another term that means “self-driving,” from its website for customers in China.

Since then, the company has unveiled a software update that it claims will better incorporate the use of radar and increase driver engagement safety checks.

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