Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has finally revealed the four-one-one on the version 8.0 of his car’s Autopilot feature, and it appears that the software update will be one that could really prevent fatal collisions.
On Sunday, the business magnate officially published his highly anticipated blog post, which per previous reports should detail how the Autopilot 8.0 update works. In his post, Musk confirmed that with the software update, Autopilot will primarily make use of the onboard radar that was added to Tesla cars as part of the hardware suite launched in October 2014.
Instead of acting as a supplementary sensor to the cars’ camera and image processing system, the radar has been enhanced to be used as the primary control sensor that recognizes objects without the need to confirm their existence using the built-in camera.
Musk says in his post that what the radar does is take snapshots of the environment every tenth of a second and these snapshots are assembled to produce a 3D picture of the world, since relying on just a single frame would make it difficult for the sensor to identify moving objects from stationary objects. As a result, the 3D picture would serve as a more reliable tool in assessing the probability of a collision.
Musk also notes that the Autopilot 8.0 update retrieves information about objects the sensor detects from Tesla’s cloud database. This is connected to how the system silently compares the objects mapped by the sensor and codes them so that if several cars drive safely in the presence of the same object, the car computer would have a reference on when and if it should activate the brake or not for the imminent object.
All in all, the Autopilot update helps detect imminent danger by engaging mild braking even if the camera has yet to see objects ahead since the computer system now has a basis when a certain path has rare instances of false braking.
Also, the system fully activates the brake when it recognizes — with the help of the radar — a high rate of probability that a collision would occur. Though Musk admits that this will not entirely prevent collisions to happen, the update would reduce the risk of getting serious injuries when the Autopilot feature is activated. To read the full transcript of Musk's post, click here.
On the same day that he published his blog post, Tesla’s founder told reporters during a conference call that the version 8.0 of Autopilot would have easily prevented the first fatal crash involving a Tesla car that took place on May 7, as per New York Times.
“These things cannot be said with absolute certainty, but we believe it is very likely that, yes, it would have,” Musk said, adding that the probability of the impact would have been assessed as high by the improved sensor and the brake would been activated to full strength.
As of late Tesla is scheduled to launch the improvements it has planned for its cars in the following week or two, since Musk did not announce an official release date yet. The update is expected to urge drivers to refrain from taking their hands off of the steering wheel of their car for long periods to ensure that they are paying attention, though their vehicle is in self-driving mode.
The BBC has learned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is pleased with the upcoming Autopilot update. It can be noted that the agency opened an investigation in response to the fatal crash in May.
Musk’s blog post comes after days of postponement in the wake of problems that plagued Tesla Motors, SolarCity and SpaceX.