Tesla has announced that all new vehicles the company produces will now have hardware that could allow for full self-driving capability. This includes the automaker’s Model S, X, and 3, but previously built cars (including older Model S cars and the now-defunct Roadster) will not be retrofitted.
Enhanced Autopilot software will be released for all Teslas and made available through over-the-air-updates. It is scheduled for release in December 2016 at a price of $5,000. If the owner decides to add Enhanced Autopilot after delivery, the price increases by an additional $1000. Enhanced Autopilot will allow cars to change lanes on the highway, transition from one highway to another, and exit highways without driver input.
The hardware upgrade, which CEO Elon Musk dubs “Hardware 2,” will require additional software along with Enhanced Autopilot projected to cost $3,000 for full self-driving capability, putting the cost at $8,000 in total. Tesla aims for the technology to operate at a significantly higher safety level than human drivers. This constitutes Level 5 autonomous ability, which the Society for Automotive Engineers defines as “full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.”
Hardware 2 marks a substantial advance from Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot, which operates at Level 3 conditional automation that requires the driver to intervene at times.
Tesla outlined the hardware specs in a blog post on Wednesday, October 19th:
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.
Additionally, the vehicles will be equipped with a new onboard computer that has 40 times more computing power than Tesla’s last generation systems. The technology will run vision, sonar, and radar software developed in-house.
Initially, Teslas with new hardware will lack features handled by the original Autopilot hardware like automatic braking, collision warning, lane holding, and active cruise control. However, these features will be re-enabled for the new hardware through over-the-air updates when they are validated.
Though all new Tesla vehicles will come with fully-autonomous hardware capability, the technology is not consumer-ready. The hardware will not yet be activated, as the corresponding software still needs to be fully tested and get regulatory approval. Tesla will further test the system with millions of miles of real-world driving in order to ensure safety.
Musk’s goal is for Tesla to demonstrate a vehicle traveling in full autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York by the end of next year. The company used a similar strategy in the past to introduce its semi-autonomous Autopilot features.
Tesla announced no specific timetable for when the new features will be available for consumers, but the hardware capability is a significant step towards Tesla’s goal of fully-autonomous cars on the road. However, it remains to be seen how many consumers will pay for technology for which there is no set timetable or guarantee of eventual regulatory approval for consumer use.