Tesla’s major update to its autopilot software will roll out globally on September 21, CEO Elon Musk revealed on Twitter Friday. Version 8.0 promises to be three times safer than traditional human drivers, thanks to its use of groundbreaking radar techniques to drive itself along the road.
Autopilot is not the same as fully autonomous driving, but it allows for driving down highways without ever touching the wheel. Tesla originally rolled out autopilot to its Model S and Model X vehicles in October 2015, granting vehicles the ability to maneuver and change lanes without a human steering the wheel.
The 8.0 update radically changes how this system works. Before, the system mostly used live footage from the roof camera as guidance, the software interpreting what it saw in the cam to try and navigate. The company is now confident that it can use radar data instead, allowing the car to drive better in low visibility by sending radio waves in all directions. Tesla vehicles will now communicate with each other to relay data about objects found during driving, ensuring that any unexpected objects are less likely to confuse the computer.
The release is predicated on the assumption that no show-stopping bugs are found between now and Wednesday, a safety precaution that thankfully should avoid iOS 10-style catastrophes.
Tesla has come under fire before over questions about the safety of its autopilot features. In May, 40-year-old Josh Brown died when his Model S collided with a semi truck on the highway. The vehicle was using a beta version of autopilot mode. A hacker later discovered that Tesla stores cam footage of crashes, which could pave the way for greater understanding about why incidents occur in future.
Musk’s long-awaited autopilot update announcement, which arrived on Sunday, was delayed by a SpaceX rocket explosion that destroyed Facebook’s internet satellite. The disaster placed the announcement on hold as Musk rushed to investigate what he described as SpaceX’s most complex failure ever.
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