Tesla has released a small update to its Autopilot system that should make owners lives a little bit easier when driving in cities. Now when a stoplight is green, the car will drive through it automatically. Previously, Autopilot would rely on cars in front of it to determine whether it was safe to move through an intersection.
With the update, Tesla owners driving in Autopilot mode also won't need to provide "explicit drive confirmation" to move through an intersection when the light is green. Before today the driver needed to either tap the accelerator or push the stalk to give the car permission to keep moving on its own.
The one caveat here is that the driver still needs to give the car permission if they already brought it to a complete stop at the intersection. Basically, if you're driving towards a green light it'll pass through but if you hit a red light and stop you'll have to tap on the acceleration again once the light turns green.
Autopilot ≠ autonomous — The Autopilot software is not an autonomous system like the name suggests and is more ideal for highway use because of its limited capability. It will only accelerate the car in a straight line and keep distance from other cars; it won't turn at intersections. Autopilot is glorified lane keeping, though Tesla is releasing a premium software package later this year that will give its cars new functionality like the ability to park themselves.
The automaker collects data from all the drivers of its vehicles and hopes that someday it will be able to use that information to make its cars fully autonomous.
Over the years, stories of Tesla drivers crashing while their cars were in Autopilot mode have raised questions about the system's safety. Critics of Tesla's "guinea pig" strategy say that Autopilot in its current form is dangerous because drivers become complacent and take their eyes off the road, or abuse the system to commit transgressions like taking a nap at the wheel. Cars, they say, should be entirely operated by humans until they're good enough to completely take over driving.
The Tesla Autopilot software definitely isn't there yet — it still gets tripped up by the smallest things, and can be tricked into thinking that pictures of people are in fact real people.
The iPhone of cars — Still, it's undeniable that Tesla revolutionized the automotive industry by creating cars that can continually receive new enhancements as easily as Apple updates the iPhone. Over the years, the automaker has added a slew of new features to its cars like "Dog Mode," a climate control feature that leaves the car's air conditioning or heater on when owners leave their pets inside.