After a hectic week with the SpaceX's Falcon accident and Lazard Ltd. mistaken valuation of SolarCity, Elon Musk was able to take time today and focus on Autopilot's software v8.0 upgrade announcement.
The new updated software will make use the radar system, along side the camera, to analyze the data and decide what the next course of action will be. Tesla will be using a more advanced signal processing to create a picture of the world. The radar was added to all Tesla vehicles in October 2014 as part of the Autopilot hardware suite but the software relied only on camera solely while radar was meant as supplementary sensor to the primary camera and image processing system.
When the data shows that false braking events would be rare, the car will begin mild braking using radar, even if the camera doesn't notice the object ahead. As the system confidence level rises, the braking force will gradually increase to full strength when it is approximately 99.99% certain of a collision. This may not always prevent a collision entirely, but the impact speed will be dramatically reduced to the point where there are unlikely to be serious injuries to the vehicle occupants.
The net effect of this, combined with the fact that radar sees through most visual obscuration, is that the car should almost always hit the brakes correctly even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero visibility conditions.
Taking this one step further, a Tesla will also be able to bounce the radar signal under a vehicle in front - using the radar pulse signature and photon time of flight to distinguish the signal - and still brake even when trailing a car that is opaque to both vision and radar. The car in front might hit the UFO in dense fog, but the Tesla will not.
According to Musk, the radar's transmitter/receiver is centered at the lower grill of the vehicle, about a foot above the ground and will recognize all objects with an original signature, even with a faint signal due to fog, rain or snow. The Autopilot system will be able to automatically take off-ramp exits and will have improved Autosteering. If repeated warnings to hold the steering wheel are ignored, the vehicle will need to be parked and restarted.
Musk believes the new update will improve the vehicles' safety by a magnitude of three. He admitted that the update could have saved the life of 40 years old Joshua Brown who crashed into a semi-truck while driving on a highway.
Musk added that we've reached the limit of hardware improvement in this technology, however algorithmic intelligence and software will improve dramatically in the years to come. He confirmed that the software was developed solely in house without MobilEye's input.
Autopilot's v8.0 was tested by a thousand beta testers around the world while Tesla was able to analyze real time data and experiences of all of its fleet. According to Musk, new and intermediate users will be mostly receptive to the new update, says Musk, as opposed to expert users who tend to ignore audible warnings and pay less attention to the road. Tesla will be adding in the future a visual indicator that lights up at pulse rate encouraging drivers to pay more attention to the road.
Musk thinks it is morally wrong to withhold technology that saves lives for the fear of being embroiled in lawsuits, that is why he worked hard, despite all the skeptics, in the last four months to improve Autopilot to the point he is confident it will bring significant improvements to road safety.
Things are better than if there wasn't autopilot, it is going from bad to great.
Here is a list of Autopilot release notes, you can read more about Autopilot's v8.0 on Tesla's blog.
- TACC braking max ramp rate increased and latency reduced by a factor of five
- Now controls for two cars ahead using radar echo, improving cut-out response and reaction time to otherwise-invisible heavy braking events
- Will take highway exit if indicator on (8.0) or if nav system active (8.1). Available in the United States initially
- Car offsets in lane when overtaking a slower vehicle driving close to its lane edge
- Interface alerts are much more prominent, including flashing white border on instrument panel
- Improved cut-in detection using blinker on vehicle ahead
- Reduced likelihood of overtaking in right lane in Europe
- Improved auto lane change availability
- Car will not allow reengagement of Autosteer until parked if user ignores repeated warnings
- Automatic braking will now amplify user braking in emergencies
- In manual mode, alerts driver if about to leave the road and no torque on steering wheel has been detected since Autosteer was deactivated
- With further data gathering, car will activate Autosteer to avoid collision when probability ~100%
- Curve speed adaptation now uses fleet-learned roadway curvature
- Approximately 200 small enhancements that aren't worth a bullet point