Tesla Unveils Autopilot System, but Don’t Let Go of the Wheel

A software update this week will overnight turn thousands of Teslas into a semi-autonomous car that can stay in lane around corners, remain a set distance from the car in front, change lanes and even park itself — all without any steering by the driver. However,  Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk cautioned that drivers should keep holding the steering wheel.

New “autopilot” features, designed for cars built after September 2014, will be available for customers in the United States while European and Asian owners must wait another week. The upgrade to the autopilot will be provided through over-the-air.

As said above, Musk cautioned that autopilot functionality was in beta mode and full “hands-off” driving was not recommended.

“We’re being especially cautious at this stage so we’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case,” Musk told reporters at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “Over time there will not be a need to have your hands on the wheel.”

Many reporters took Model S sedans with the new autopilot for a spin and  took their hands off the wheel saw a notice saying “hold steering wheel” illuminate on the dashboard. The manual says that “autosteer is a hands-on feature. You must keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.”

Tesla said that if the driver is driving in difficult navigating conditions, an audio alert will come on and if that also is ignored, the car will slow and eventually stop

For drivers, “We’re very clearly saying this is not a case of abdicating responsibility,” Musk said. “That will come at some point in the future but … this is still early days.”

He said regulators would need data showing that self-driving cars work.

Teslas already on the road will help the autopilot constantly improve and become more reliable, he said.

“The whole Tesla fleet acts like a network. When one car learns something they all learn it,” he said. “As … more people enable autopilot, the information about how to drive is uploaded to the network. Each driver is effectively an expert trainer in how the autopilot should work.”

Musk said that he thinks that it will take three years for cars to drive “from your driveway to work without you touching anything.”

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