Tesla is pushing forward on its quest for autonomous driving with a software update for the Tesla Model S sedan that includes new capabilities for the car’s Autopilot system. In addition to the previously available adaptive cruise control, the Model S now offers auto-steer, automatic lane change, automatic parking, and automatic emergency steering.
Though automatic parking and automatic steering assist have been in production cars for a few years now, Tesla is pushing ahead with the first application of an automatic lane-change feature. When the autosteer function is engaged, drivers can use either the left or right turn signal, and the car will change lanes on its own if the various sensors and cameras determine that the coast is clear. Tesla’s auto-steer function works similarly to other cars’ lane-keep assist system, as drivers must keep their hands on the wheel as the car keeps itself in its lane. The update also includes a side collision warning system.
Elon Musk made clear at a press conference that the automatic lane change feature is not yet at the point where drivers can abdicate responsibility in the case of an accident. “This will come at some point in the future,” Musk said. Look for Tesla to continue issuing updates to come closer to full autonomous driving over the next few years. Volvo recently announced that the company would assume full responsibility for accidents that happen while its fully autonomous XC90 SUVs are in self-driving mode when they begin driving on public roads in Sweden starting in 2017.
For new Tesla Model S sedans, these autonomous features are part of a $2,500 Autopilot package. Current Model S owners will have to pay the same amount to enable the features, even though the software update 7.0 will be downloaded to all existing Model S vehicles. All Model S sedans built after late 2014 are equipped with the hardware for these features, but Musk says that the company has to charge owners to enable the autonomous features because it takes a loss when owners purchase a Model S without paying for Autopilot capability. The recently revealed Tesla Model X will be available will this package as well, and all Model S sedans come standard with active safety features like automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot monitor, and lane-departure warning.
The Tesla software update will be rolling out to owners in the U.S. tonight, with other global cars to follow.