Tesla Motors will send an over-the-air AutoPilot update to Model S and X owners, which adds radar improvements and additional safety warnings to the semi-autonomous system.
To understand the update, it is important to know how AutoPilot previously worked. A rear-view mirror camera, front bumper radar sensor and 12 ultrasonic sensors developed an image of the car’s surroundings. AutoPilot looked at the image from the camera, to recognize signs, obstacles, and movement and react accordingly.
In AutoPilot 8.0, Tesla has moved the primary information sensor from the camera to radar. The benefits of this move include six times more information per object, ability to work well in fog and heavy rain, and longer range.
Tesla has worked on the radar for a few months, fixing some of the kinks of the sensor to ensure it builds a near perfect image. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is confident the sensor will perform better, stating in a press interview after the announcement that it might have saved Joshua Brown, who was killed while driving on AutoPilot.
Tesla trying to weed out false positives
Another upgrade to AutoPilot comes in the form of a cloud “hivemind,” which will help remove “false positives” from the road.
“Initially, the vehicle fleet will take no action except to note the position of road signs, bridges and other stationary objects, mapping the world according to radar,” said the Tesla team in a press release. “The car computer will then silently compare when it would have braked to the driver action and upload that to the Tesla database. If several cars drive safely past a given radar object, whether Autopilot is turned on or off, then that object is added to the geocoded whitelist.”
The hivemind, what Tesla calls fleet learning, should give the AutoPilot a better impression of the roads before its activated.
Tesla has also added new warnings for drivers that use AutoPilot, to ensure they don’t take their hands off the wheel. If a driver ignores three beeps in an hour, the car will park and force the driver to take back control of the vehicle.
Musk said that while the warnings should reduce the likelihood of crashes, the system will never be perfect. He also reiterated that the Model S and X are two of the safest cars on the road, adding “I don’t think there’s a model within a multiple.”