Tesla Motors is rolling out a software update to its vehicles that will enable them to go fully autonomous. The update will first be active on 1,000 test vehicles, and will run in the shadow mode on the entire fleet. The shadow mode run will allow Tesla engineers to figure out what the car would have done in various circumstances. If there are no problems detected during the trial run, then the entire fleet will be fully autonomous.

The software update is called Autopilot HW2. HW1 is the previous iteration of the self driving software, that works with human supervision. Ludicrous+ is a one touch acceleration feature that takes some Tesla vehicles from 0 to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds. The update improves the acceleration by a millisecond.

In October 2016, Elon Musk announced that all new Tesla Motors vehicles will have the capability to be fully autonomous. The new hardware included eight cameras, 12 updated sensors, and a radar with faster processing. The older vehicles, that do not support the self driving software, will continue to get updates that will improve the software. The HW2 update was expected to land some time in December, but there has been a delay in the roll out.

The update will allow vehicles to drive to a destination, drop off the passengers and park itself, with a single button press. It is unclear how the update will be affected by regulations. The US government is contemplating stricter rules for the development and deployment of software for fully autonomous vehicles. Musk has claimed that the fully autonomous software is twice as safe as having a human behind the wheel.

There have been a few disastrous crashes of Tesla vehicles. In Indianapolis, US and in a crash in Netherlands, the autopilot system was not active. The autopilot mode was enabled in the first fatal Tesla crash, in Florida. A Tesla car in China crashed while in autopilot mode, with the driver being confused about the capabilities of the system, believing the car to be fully autonomous. A Tesla Model S crashing into a truck while in autopilot mode was caught on camera. The autopilot feature detected a potential crash seconds before it happened, and managed to stop the vehicle in time, something beyond the capabilities of humans.

The hand-off from a vehicle to the driver is what makes semi-autonomous vehicles so risky. A human can handle some emergency situations better than the vehicle, and the opposite is true for other situations. The problem has lead some companies to opt out of semi-autonomous vehicles entirely, and aim directly for introducing fully autonomous vehicles. Google’s high profile self driving car project, that has now been spun off into a company called Waymo, follows the philosophy of not requiring human supervision.

The update means Tesla would be the first company to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road. Self driving cars from other manufacturers are expected to start being available from 2019.

Publish date: January 9, 2017 10:27 am| Modified date: January 9, 2017 10:27 am

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