Another milestone on the road to self-driving cars was reached this week as Tesla released a software update that apparently brings the capabilities of cars with Autopilot 2.0 to near-parity with those of the first-generation Autopilot suite.
As aficionados know, Tesla vehicles built since October 2016 are equipped with second-generation Autopilot hardware (including eight cameras as well as radar and ultrasound sensors) that earlier models lacked. However, the software required to take full advantage of the new hardware was not yet in place, so the new Autopilot was actually less capable than the old Autopilot.
Autopilot 8.1 software, which started rolling out last week, brings several improvements. Teslas can now steer themselves on the highway at speeds up to 80 mph, and can pass other vehicles automatically with a flick of the turn signal. They can also parallel-park themselves, and can be summoned remotely – handy in rainy weather, or where parking spaces are tight.
So, are the new Autopilot features now truly equal to the old? Teslarati presented a first look at the new system in a video, but didn’t seem quite convinced: “Though version 8.1 seems to navigate freeway conditions with more confidence, it’s still not on par with Tesla’s first generation Autopilot.”
Autopilot is still not a fully self-driving (level 5) system – the car will warn its human commensals if they don’t at least place their hands on the steering wheel from time to time, and the car will eventually slow down and stop if the human refuses to be dragged away from its screen.
However, Elon Musk has said that the current hardware will support fully autonomous driving once the software is ready, and has promised a coast-to-coast driverless demonstration before the end of the year. As for how soon owners will be able to (legally) use self-driving features in the real world, that may depend on state laws, which are sure to lag far behind the technology.
New Tesla buyers can opt to purchase the new Autopilot system for $5,000. Tesla has said that the full self-driving system will cost $8,000 once it becomes available.
The latest update also brings several other improvements, including greater control of Model X’s falcon-wing doors, some new voice controls, and something to help us while away the hours on the highway, now that our driving services are no longer required: drawing software. Just in time for Easter, the new touchscreen sketchpad can be accessed by tapping the Tesla logo on the center console three times.
We all know Elon Musk is a man of many talents, but until now, few were aware of his artistic skills. The Polymath of Palo Alto used the new sketchpad feature to draw a wonderful picture of a car powered by unicorn farts (also an idea for yet another new line of business).