By on October 20, 2016

Tesla Model S

Yesterday, after a brief delay and weeks of teasing, Tesla Motors said it will equip all of its new vehicles with the hardware needed for fully autonomous driving. Starting yesterday, the technology comes standard on every model, including the upcoming Model 3 sedan.

But that doesn’t mean you can use it anytime soon. 
Tesla Motors announced that every new car coming out of its Fremont plant will possess the eight cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and updated GPS required for the vehicle to operate without a human driver — but without the software needed to activate the system. At least, not before some additional testing and regulator approval.

The Wall Street Journal reports that company CEO Elon Musk hopes to show off this hardware on a driverless cross-country road trip by the end of next year. That’s something the previous incarnations of Tesla’s assisted driving system couldn’t dream of. “It will do this without the need for a single touch, including the charger,” says Musk.

The current generation of Tesla’s Autopilot is essentially cruise control with some bells and whistles. It can keep the car in its own lane, follow the road, and stop itself from driving into the trunk of the Honda Accord ahead of it. But it is incapable of taking you down an off-ramp and onto the streets of a major metropolitan area. Nor can it navigate the mundane cross-traffic of a small town.

However, Teslas equipped with the new hardware will be losing that functionality anyway. The company’s website says that upgraded cars will temporarily lack certain features available with first-generation Autopilot hardware, “including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control.”

This could be a sly way of reevaluating some the previous tech that may have caused a fatal collision in Florida last May, while also preparing the new autonomous mode for regulator approval. The Model S involved in that crash was operating in Autopilot mode and collided with a tractor-trailer that the Autopilot system failed to recognize.

“It will take us some time into the future to complete validation of the software and to get the required regulatory approval, but the important thing is that the foundation is laid for the cars to be fully autonomous at a safety level we believe to be at least twice that of a person, maybe better,” Musk said on Wednesday.

Tesla released a software update for its Autopilot system in early September, with improved cameras, radar, and the computing power needed to perform more involved tasks than the previous incarnation. This served to make the semi-autonomous technology in the existing Tesla fleet safer. Model S and Model X sedans are currently in production with the fully autonomous hardware, with the Model 3 set to arrive late next year.

[Image: Tesla Motors]

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24 Comments on “Tesla Adds Fully Self-Driving Hardware to All Models, But You’ll Still Do The Work...”


  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    …and it still won’t know what to do with my driveway, with a grass parking lot at the county fair, with a fast food drive through, with a car wash, with linemen hand-directing traffic around a cherry picker, with a large piece of farm equipment partially blocking both lanes, with the elementary school crossing guard, with snow covering the lane markings, with… with… with… with…

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, I sometimes think the CA designers forget that the rest of the country deals with freezing rain, snow, and ice (thinking of Tesla flush pop-out door handles, Model X falcon doors, and Model 3 pivoting door handles).

      And I’d prefer my future Model 3 not be equipped with $$$ hardware I probably won’t use.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        You might want to look at how modern manufacturing works. It is literally cheaper to include the things and not the software than to leave them out. You make the product, and then cripple it down depending on how much the consumer paid for the market segmentation.

        i7 6700K Intel processor (4 cores, hyper threading enabled, overclocking enabled): $329 (on sale)
        i7 4770S Intel processor (4 cores, hyper threading enabled, overclocking disabled): $295
        i5 4690K Intel processor(4 cores, hyper threading disabled, overclocking enabled): $239
        i5 4430 Intel processor(4 cores, hyper threading disabled, overclocking disabled): $184

        Four chips, all the same functionality built into the chip (the i5k seems a little different, presumably newegg either couldn’t get a Haswell copy or the Devil’s Canyon was a better deal), and then taken away by a laser altering the software to make sure the customer doesn’t get more than he pays for. The electronics industry learned well from Alfred Sloan and took the idea to the logical conclusion.

        Can’t say I like the idea, but IP is the basis of modern capitalism and you will pretty much have to overthrow the entire capitalistic system to get rid of it. On a side note, this is why you have to keep fighting for your right to mod cars (even though the manufacturers *know* that the market share for modding is tiny, you might notice that there is a difference in prices of the CPU that allow the user to get in and mod the performance of the chips (the “K” vs. non-“K” chips).

        • 0 avatar
          DaPlugg

          When i built my 4770 rig i went with the non k becuase it came with a higher base clock than the k and i didnt want to overclock anyways so it worked better for me and saved me like $20, im about to do a 6700k builf and will probably go with the k this time however

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Tesla will face much more competition than Intel does for x86 chips. The kind of monopolistic pricing scheduling Intel employs, is simply not viable for any car maker.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        I don’t think anyone in Silicon Valley knows or cares about the rest of the country.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Rapidly depreciating and soon to be obsolete hardware at that….. But it’s likely a requirement to maintain “the illusion” for another year of sales (of cars, and far more importantly in the free money for nothing era, debt and shares…), and hope everything will work out by then….

  • avatar
    wumpus

    Makes sense to me. The hardware is straightforward, the software is not (and might not be ready before the Teslas in the non-showrooms are crushed).

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    Well I guess this explains the supplier Bruhaha from the recent past.

    The interesting part of putting this hardware in all their vehicles is that presumably, since all the cars can downlink telemetry data, they’ll be able to get real-world data from a fleet of these sensors before ever enabling them. That’s something other manufacturers can currently only dream of.

    I’m surprised they will be BELOW feature parity to start, though. Methinks someone was nonplussed by a review of the current system’s performance and opted to replace it post-haste.

  • avatar
    JRobUSC

    We’re talking years before that software ever unlocks those features. By the time this is actually available to use the hardware they’re putting on cars today will be obsolete. In the meantime you have $8k worth of expensive sensors and cameras doing nothing except waiting to break or get damaged, driving up your insurance premiums for things you can’t even use.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      If the don’t do anything, then I doubt you need to do anything if they break. And at minimum and in short order they will be providing services similar to what existing Tesla vehicles have in the Autopilot suite, but presumably without as many limitations as exist today. So no, you may not get self driving, but you WILL get the features of today, with better sensors that will allow them to improve over time.

      not to mention, as I suggested previously, I bet these will provide lots of aggregate telemetry data Tesla can use to make these even better as time goes on. It’s nice to have a car that isn’t designed to be obsolete in time for the next year, for once.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        A nice bonus of the leading “Autopilot” peddler “committing” to equip all it’s cars with a standardized system, is it is a move in the direction of standardizing sensor types and positions. Which at least Tesla, but very possibly also others, can then “take for granted” for some time going forward.

        This should enable much better reuse of the software and algos that performs the critical and fundmental task of mapping raw sensor inputs to a representation of the car’s surroundings.

  • avatar
    tinbad

    Genius move by Tesla to start collecting the real world data needed to implement autonomous systems at scale. This will give them the much needed competitive advantage over other manufacturers who only have a limited amount of test mules out there doing the same at n thousand of the scale. I can only admire Musk and his baldness for doing this, while most here are discussing the situations where this may not work (today), he is setting out a vision, building the company and investing in infrastructure needed to execute. Nothing is more American than that. Can’t we have him run for president instead of that spoiled daddy’s boy building slightly fancier versions of holiday inns?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Another gimmick. Musk is a master at this stuff.

    Nobody could possibly know what all of the hardware requirements are, given that the technology isn’t close to being refined to the point that this knowledge is possible. But there a lot of gullible fanboys who will buy a story that is so lacking in credibility as is this one, simply because they want to believe it.

    • 0 avatar
      tinbad

      You realize that without the rocket there would be no people in space, and without the plane no rocket, etc. we need to start somewhere to get the technology ‘refined’. Musk is redefining the possible and we owe it to guys like him to be where we are.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        As I said, gullible fanboys guzzle this stuff.

        Nobody knows what the hardware requirements will be. Musk is trying to gloss over the fatalities to date while installing stuff that may not even be used.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      You’ve gotta start somewhere…..

      Some form of standardization, even if immature, can help entice more, and more specialized, players into the field. Think guys writing specialized apps for your platform of standardized sensors and sensor positions. In the process making the platform itself more valuable, and more entrenched….

      With Tesla currently, and for the short term future, having the largest fleet of “autopiloted” cars out there, hence the most real world experience with the stuff, this could also allow them to create a possible spinoff candidate, in case it turns out becoming a full line automaker was a step too far after all.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        How can something be standardized when we don’t even yet know what exactly is going to be standardized?

        • 0 avatar
          tinbad

          I assume you’re referring to me being the fan boy? For what it’s worth, I don’t own a Tesla, not its stock. Although I could’ve. I choose not to. I’m a grown man and I’m able to make my own decisions. It doesn’t prohibit me from admiring a successful entrepreneur and visionary risk taker. The point is that whoever does it first, becomes the standard. You’re obviously the standard that came after something more exciting.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Autonomous vehicle research and electric cars existed long before Tesla.

            Rushing technology to market when it isn’t ready is marketing hype, not visionary.

            Other automakers don’t do what Tesla does because it loses money and they are concerned about liability, not because they’re all idiots.

          • 0 avatar
            tinbad

            If Tesla wasn’t doing it at this scale, nobody would. Nobody bothered to seriously look at alternatives for ICEs until Tesla came along. Doing an R&D project for PR purposes isn’t the same as building a whole company on the premise that electric cars could one day become mainstream. Look at where we are now, Nissan, BMW, VW all make electric cars (God even GM got their heads out of their asses). I couldn’t give a shit about Musk or Tesla but I do want for them (and other startups with a vision) to succeed. Nothing good comes from a few big corps completely owning a market with a high price to entry, they get lazy and stop innovating.

          • 0 avatar
            orenwolf

            I think there’s a lot of people who somehow thin innovation happens in its own in a vaccuum. That *is* sometimes true (think the invention of the intermittent wiper blade or awesome places like Cerox PARC) but IMHO and in my own experience, change needs a catalyst. “Disruption” is a real effect even if the “disrupters” don’t always reap the benefit themselves – they still move the needle and it rarely goes backwards.

            They very fact that Tesla has the telemetry and data they have (and presumably will have) on autonomous driving and sensor data will mean other interested companies will, at minimum, look to reach parity.

            Even *if* Tesla itself becomes a non-entity, they will have changed expectations on the sort of data these vehicles should have available. And that will have effects far beyond the orbit of Tesla itself.

            You can hate on Tesla the company all you want, but it’s a net positive if they end up moving the needle on expectations surrounding upgradable cars, equitable vehicle pricing, collision analytics, vehicle automation or exp citations for electric vehicles. And while it’s true only some of these may actually happen, they’ll have spurred those changes, if nothing else, to come more quickly.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Autonomous cars are being extensively researched.

            But other automakers, which are better funded and staffed for the effort, aren’t pretending that the technology is ready.

            You dupes don’t realize that Musk is hyping the stuff and claiming leadership because (a) he is trying to make his old-fashioned loss-producing manufacturing company appear to be a high-flying tech company and (b) he doesn’t have the money for a proper research effort.

            There is nothing innovative about launching a product before it’s ready. But other automakers know better; they are well aware that they are not tech companies.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “Musk is a master at this stuff.”

      He’s also good in a Dilbertian way at putting all the onus for deployment date upon government regulators . “Never gonna happen and it’s not our fault”.

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