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Tesla upgrades its autopilot software for safer driving

12 September 2016

Elon Musk announced new Tesla software will make better use of the on-board radar and do more to protect drivers who use the self-driving mode.

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Even though there are several updates to Tesla’s Version 8 software, Musk states that ‘the most significant upgrade to Autopilot will be the use of more advanced signal processing to create a picture of the world using the on-board radar’.  

Musk believes that the radar can now be used as the primary control sensor to confirm visual image recognition and give the car more opportunities to avoid collisions. However, Musk states, ‘the big problem in using radar to stop the car is avoiding false alarms’. 

The radar system has been present in Tesla’s since October 2014 and the new software will run on existing hardware and unlock six times more radar objects. The radar will create a 3D map of its surroundings and by studying several frames against vehicle velocity and its expected path, the car can judge if something is real and assess whether or not a collision is imminent. 

The difficulty are objects such as signs, a rise in the road or a bridge where the road dips, all of which the car could interpret as a collision course. The Tesla fleet is used to solve this issue, each car helping one another to ‘learn’ the road. Musk states that ‘initially, the vehicle fleet will take no action except to note the position of road signs, bridges and other stationary objects, mapping the world according to radar. The car computer will then silently compare when it would have braked to the driver action and upload that to the Tesla database. If several cars drive safely past a given radar object…then that object is added to the geocoded whitelist’.

The result of this is that the car should almost always hit the brakes automatically in necessary situations.

Another update follows the recent death of a Tesla driver using the self-driving feature. If the car detects no hands on the wheel whilst in the autopilot mode and the driver ignores repeated warnings, the car will need to be parked before self-driving can continue. 

For more information, read the full Elon Musk blog here.

Following on from this, former business partner Mobileye, has announced it has stopped working with Tesla because the company has 'pushed the envelope' on its autopilot feature.

Mobileye executive Amnon Shashua told Reuters that the design of autopilot threatened to push it beyond the point that it was safe to use.

"It is not designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner," he said. Mr Shashua is also technology chief at Mobileye, which develops driver assistance systems.
"It is a driver assistance system and not a driverless system," he said.

Tesla has responded by saying the autopilot was built to help drivers, not turn cars into autonomous vehicles.    

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