Tesla plans to equip new vehicles with self-driving hardware
After receiving scrutiny from regulators worldwide, Tesla Motors has ratcheted up its self-driving efforts by equipping all models with hardware that could enable fully autonomous driving.
Vehicles currently in production -- including the upcoming Model 3 -- will now have “Hardware Two,” which includes eight camera sensors (an increase from one) and 12 ultrasonic sensors, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday on a conference call with journalists. The new hardware will disable certain functions of Autopilot, the automaker’s semiautonomous software, and Tesla vehicles already on the road will not be upgraded.
“This is different from Autopilot,” Musk said, adding the hardware would be the “highest level” of autonomous technology.
Though vehicles will have fully self-driving capability, the technology will not be deployed immediately. After “millions” of miles of real-world testing, gradual upgrades will be delivered to vehicles over the air every two to three months beginning at the end of 2016, Musk said. Much of the research will be done while the hardware is in “shadow mode” -- evaluating driving situations while the driver is in control without acting.
Musk said the added cost of the new hardware is about $8,000, compared with Autopilot, which is $3,000.
Musk expects that by the end of 2017 a Tesla would be able to drive in full autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York "without the need for a single touch" on the wheel.
He has set ambitious deadlines for Tesla many times, only to see timetables slip. Rival automakers have said they expect to be able to field autonomous driving capability by 2019 or 2021.
It is unclear how Tesla's future autonomous driving system will be greeted by regulators. Musk said it will be twice as safe as a human driver. However, federal and state regulators in the United States are proposing new, more rigorous standards to control the development and deployment of such systems.
Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell questioned the value of purchasing a self-driving car before regulations catch up, calling it a "vanity purchase" that cannot be used in the real world.
In the meantime, rival automakers could introduce better solutions, Caldwell said, potentially making Tesla's hardware "obsolete almost as soon as it's activated for prime time."
Most notably, Tesla has chosen not to include Lidar laser-based sensors, a tool most other automakers believe is necessary for full autonomy.
Tesla’s update follows months of scrutiny over the name and function of Autopilot. In May, Florida driver Joshua Brown was killed when his Tesla Model S crashed into a truck while the technology was engaged. This month, German regulators told the automaker to stop using the term “Autopilot” in advertisements, calling it “misleading.”
Musk said such reports have halted the progress of autonomous technology by preventing widespread public acceptance.
"If you're writing an article that's negative, that essentially dissuades people from using [self-driving technology], you're killing people," he said.
Tesla also announced the plans in a blog posted on its website.
Reuters contributed to this report