Tesla’s latest revelation is out, it’s a big one, and this time everyone should be able to appreciate its significance. In less than two years, all Tesla models should be capable of full level-5 autonomy, driving themselves without human input. Tesla has leapfrogged far, far beyond every other automaker to introduce an innovation that could radically change the way we get around, and even the way cities and road networks are designed.
Here’s the gist of it, from the Tesla blog: “…as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”
At this point, only the hardware part of the system is in place. The software that makes it all work will be enabled gradually via over-the-air updates. In fact, the new hardware suite will not offer the same Autopilot capabilities that the old one does at first, but it should reach parity after a few months of software improvements. The software will be operating in “shadow mode,” constantly gathering data to improve the system, until it is capable of full autonomy by 2018. Elon Musk promised a demo of a fully autonomous drive from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.
Tesla described the new hardware suite: “Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.”
“To make sense of all of this data, a new onboard computer with more than 40 times the computing power of the previous generation runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software. 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 Tesla Neural Net relies on the Nvidia Titan GPU, but doesn’t use any third-party hardware sensors, Musk said in a conference call following the announcement. The new system won’t be sold to other automakers, as it would be “very hard to turn into a kit.”
No, all the wonderful new goodies will not be free. The safety features enabled by the system will come standard on all models, but the Enhanced Autopilot package will be a $5,000 option, and Fully Self-Driving mode will cost $8,000.