Tesla took an exciting step toward full autonomy this week, as its version nine software update reached selected testers ahead of a scheduled full launch before the end of the week. The update makes a number of welcome changes like an updated interface for the Model S and X, but perhaps the biggest change is an upgrade to the semi-autonomous Autopilot mode that merges navigation tools.
A new set of images shared on Reddit Thursday show the “Navigate on Autopilot” feature in action. The release notes state that “a single blue line indicates the path ahead, keeping your car in the lane,” while “gray lines highlight lane changes for a more efficient driving route.” The feature also enables a limited form of autonomous driving to the destination, as the car “will also automatically steer toward and take the correct highway interchanges and exits based on your destination.” It’s not quite full autonomy, but it’s a step forward in terms of intelligence from the previous mode that would continue to drive along the road.
CEO Elon Musk first promised in October 2016 that new cars would include the necessary cameras and sensors to support full coast-to-coast autonomous driving at a later date. Initially scheduled for a launch before the end of 2017, Musk told investors in February that the team pushed the feature back as “it would have required too much specialized code to effectively game it, or make it somewhat brittle in that it would work for one particular route but not be a general solution.”
While the new update requires the driver to remain alert at the vehicle and does not promise full autonomy, it’s an exciting step closer to the vision for full autonomy outlined on Tesla’s website. The feature is currently available as a $3,000 pre-order for cars with Enhanced Autopilot unlocked. Tesla claims that the feature will “conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat,” with the driver able to “get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar.”
Musk has suggested that the alpha version of Tesla Autopilot version 10 could complete autonomous cross-country road trips, but what this means for a wider release date is unclear.
Tesla could beat competitors like Toyota to the autonomous car market by a sizeable measure.