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Tesla announces full self-driving ability for all cars

Over-the-air update will eventually let Model Ss, Xs and 3s to navigate without humans

All current and future Teslas will be built with a ‘Full Self Driving Hardware’ package, the US electric car company has announced. Think of the tech as the next step on from Autopilot, allowing Model S, Model X and Model 3 cars to not just cruise along the motorway, but tackle junctions, overtakes, twisting rural roads and even read which parking bays it’s allowed to use without human input. 

Add that all together and you arrive at the Tesla Summon function, which founder Elon Musk claims will allow cars to travel across entire countries to meet their owners without a driver on board, charging at unmanned Superchargers along the way.

The video here, curiously overlaid with The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black, demonstrates how Teslas will use over-the-shoulder cameras to check blind spots, read signs and signal appropriately. Elon Musk tweeted following the video’s release: “When searching for parking, the car reads the signs to see if it is allowed to park there, which is why it skipped the disabled spot.” Clever stuff…

The hardware itself comprises no fewer than eight surround-view cameras, peering ahead a range of up to 250m. Radar and ultrasonic sensors also feature, apparently able to distinguish between hard and soft objects twice as far away as the previous version of Autopilot. Tesla says its forward-facing radar is unaffected by rain, low sun, dust and can even look ‘through’ the car in front, to study if traffic is building up or if there’s a sharp bend or blind brow ahead. 

Of course, to process all of this data, the car needs one heck of a brain, and it’s got one. The new Tesla on-board computer is 40 times more powerful than the version it replaces, and promises exponentially safer driving than a human, in theory. 

While Tesla has proudly announced all its cars from hereon out will be built with the hardware, the bad news is you can’t commute totally hands- and feet-free yet, and neither car you summon your Tesla from New York to pick you up in Vegas. First up, there’ll be a step to ‘Enhanced Autopilot’, which will be unlocked after you’ve covered a short ‘running-in’ period, letting the car learn your general area and road users’ habits. The poor thing. 

Tesla says this hive learning mind will accelerate the march to full autonomy: “before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience.” Though there are still legislative hurdles to overcome in the US, the newly equipped cars will be ready for operation by the time they are shipped to Europe.

During the calibration period, Tesla says “Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control.”

So, complete auto-driving is still a vision of the future, but it’s potentially not a very distant one at all. And it’s featuring not just in the pricey Model S and X, but the much more attainable (though currently sold out) Model 3. Like the sound of this brave new world?

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