Elon Musk recently announced that Tesla’s full self-driving capability will improve driver safety even if cars are still legally required to have a human driver — and users could see a huge difference between it and the “Enhanced Autopilot” system in just three to six months.
Musk announced the new software’s timeline while responding Monday to curious Tesla fans on Twitter. Currently, Tesla cars are only partially autonomous. According to Tesla, the line of Hardware 2 cars have all of the necessary equipment for fully autonomous driving, and their version of Enhanced Autopilot is swiftly catching up to the stable version running on older vehicles with Hardware 1.
Fully autonomous software on Teslas would allow the cars to operate without a driver in the car, although whether they would legally be able to do so is still in question.
While waiting for regulation to catch up, Twitter user Stephen Stohn wondered particularly about safety, referring to the new hardware on Teslas: “Will 8 cameras make the Tesla safer in meantime?”
Musk’s response emphasized that even if a driver has to be in the car, having an autonomous system would make it safer.
A fully autonomous system doesn’t need a driver, so this isn’t surprising. Musk’s use of “disallow” is a pointed reminder that in the United States, things are legal unless they are explicitly made illegal. Regulations would have to specifically ban a car from driving without a person — which hasn’t happened yet.
The legality of autonomous cars has been an issue mired in speculation and anxiety, as automakers have raced closer to having actual autonomous models. Regulations on autonomous vehicles are still being developed, and the patchwork of rules across the country varies widely by state. National guidelines on autonomous cars were released in September, but they only form a 15-point safety standard for the design of autonomous cars and did not address national regulations for their legality.
Things got a little more interesting when Musk replied to a follow-up question on the thread about when “Full Self-Driving Features” would be significantly different from Autopilot.
Since Enhanced Autopilot went live in January, three to six months from now upgrades on HW2 cars could be at an even more impressive state of autonomy, although the details are a little unclear.
“Significantly different from Autopilot” doesn’t necessarily mean full autonomy, but a more autonomous system would be a tantalizing taste of the future, and could push regulations to move faster on the legality of autonomous cars.Photos via Getty Images / Justin Sullivan