Yesterday Tesla announced something quite special. Today sees the US release of version 7.0 of the Model S software, the widely anticipated new build that finally enables the car’s self-driving features. Those capabilities and the necessary sensors were added to all Model S cars that have rolled off the assembly line since last September, but Tesla has needed additional time to flesh out the algorithms, which it has been testing this year.
The version 7.0 release will be available in the US today and will start rolling out across Europe and Asia in the coming weeks. The Model X update won’t take too long as it has all of the hardware and sensors as well. The “self-driving” feature isn’t fully autonomous like the Google car. Its primary feature, called Autosteer, keeps he car in its current lane once you’re already on the road and manages speed and distance from the car ahead. Elon Musk stated – “We want people to be quite careful”, as Tesla wants drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. An upcoming version 7.1 will add the ability to send the car off to a garage on its own and come back to pick you up, another feature teased when Musk first announced autopilot capabilities last year. Obviously stating that drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel helps shift liability away from Tesla. “If there is an accident, the driver of the car is responsible,” – Musk said whilst stating that in the near future their self-driving cars will abdicate liability from drivers entirely.
The new version 7.0 software also features Auto Lane Change, which will automatically move to the adjacent lane by tapping the turn signal, and Autopark, which continuously scans for available parking around the car. When one is found, the car can park itself (which isn’t really something new). The update also includes Automatic Emergency Steering and Side Collision Warning, which use the ultrasonic sensors to nudge the car away from danger and alert the driver as necessary.
The software depends on four sensor types on the car: forward radar, forward-facing camera, 360-degree ultrasonic sensors, and GPS combined with Tesla’s own high-resolution navigation maps that track the individual lanes and features of roadways. What is different about Tesla’s GPS system is that it continuously uploads real-world sensor data from 7.0-equipped vehicles to home base (fleet learning technology). This allows the autopilot capabilities to become more reliable over time.