Elon Musk Promises "Significant Improvements" for Tesla Autopilot

Version 8 will be unlike anything the company has to offer.

Tesla / Facebook

Tesla’s autonomous driving features have hit some speed bumps in the past month, but according to Elon Musk, the car’s self-driving systems will get a significant update in the near future. Bosch Global, the company that makes Tesla’s radar sensors, will be able to add “significant improvements” via an over-the-air software update, Musk tweeted on Sunday.

Musk and Tesla have been on the defensive regarding the company’s autonomous technology ever since news of the first fatal autonomous crash was made public in June. The company’s Autopilot technology is still in beta, and will be until Tesla racks up at least a billion miles in driving data. But the “beta” classification hasn’t stopped people from sleeping and watching Harry Potter while the car does all the work, despite Tesla’s clear recommendations to not do that under any circumstances.

Bosch Global is a key component in making Teslas safe enough for people to actually do both of those things (eventually). Tesla relies heavily on Bosch’s mid-range radar sensors. Unlike Google and other companies working on autonomous vehicles, Tesla prefers to only use radar rather than a combination of LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) and radar. Multiple systems create redundancies that make autonomous vehicles safer, but Tesla is putting all its eggs in one garage with radar. Without Bosch, that wouldn’t be possible.

The improvements that Musk refers to will likely come in Autopilot’s Version 8, which will be the most dramatic set of improvements since Autopilot Version 1. Areas that need immediate improvement include better recognition of trailers (their high ground clearance means the radar misses them sometimes) in high-light situations, which in part caused the fatal crash, and fixing the radar’s blind spots, which in part caused a Model S to crash into a trailer while being summoned.

There’s no set release date, but Musk tweeted that he is meeting with the design team “every day.”

Musk has been busy lately, and Autopilot is just one small part of the reason why. He’s currently working on Tesla’s Master Plan Part 2 — which probably includes an improved Autopilot, but definitely includes a wider focus on energy — and he’s also trying to broker a deal for Tesla to acquire SolarCity.

With all of that, it’s easy to forget that Musk is also running a space company that’s pioneering the process of launching and landing reusable rockets. The latest successful landing was just last night, so you can forgive him for getting a little behind schedule.

We’ll let it slide just this once, Elon.

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