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Tesla Autopilot 8.0 to deliver three-fold increase in safety

Tesla responds to concerns over the safety of its Autopilot autonomous driving system with a software update for Model S and Model X cars

Tesla owners are in line for another update to Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous car technology. Autopilot 8.0 will be delivered in an over-the-air software update to the operating systems of Tesla Model S and Model X cars in the next one or two weeks.

The improvements to Autopilot come in the wake of a number of high profile accidents allegedly involving the Autopilot self-driving system but Tesla CEO Elon Musk is keen to emphasize that this is not a case of issues with Autopilot technology being fixed. Instead it's merely the latest stage in Tesla's continual improvement of its products. Speaking in an online press conference to launch the software update he said: “It’s not going from bad to good, it’s going from good to great". "This will probably see a three-fold increase in safety.”

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• Driverless cars: everything you need to know

The package of Autopilot updates will bring a raft of improvements to Tesla’s active safety systems and self-driving capabilities. The key change is the more prominent use of the onboard radar system that has been fitted to all new Tesla Model S and Model X cars since October 2014. The radar technology was previously a supplementary sensor, double checking the readings of the car’s optical sensors, but with Autopilot 8, radar is now the primary means by which a Tesla car builds a picture of the road ahead and detects hazards to avoid.

According to Tesla there are a number of advantages that radar gives compared to the optical camera system that still plays a key role in helping the Autopilot navigate. It’s not affected by poor visibility caused by conditions such as fog, rain or dust and it can see beyond cars or other obstacles in the road by bouncing its signals around them. 

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• Read our Tesla Autopilot review

The radar system is combined with Tesla’s real-time ‘Fleet Learning’ technology which shares any anomalies or problematic driving scenarios that Tesla cars detect anywhere in the world. It helps Tesla cars ‘learn’ how to deal with these occasions and locations safely.

Other upgrades to Autopilot as part of the 8.0 software update include a setting that forces a driver to park and restart their car if they ignore three warnings to keep their hands on the wheel in the space of an hour. Autopilot will allow drivers to remove their hands from the wheel for up to 3 minutes depending on the driving scenario but they must pay attention to the road at all times. There are also improvements to the comfort and feel of the system designed to improve the smoothness with which it operates and more prominent alerts with a flashing white border in the instrument panel to attract the driver’s attention.

When asked if Autopilot 8.0 would have saved the life of Joshua Brown, who died on May 7th 2016 when his Tesla Model S collided with a truck, Elon Musk said: “These things cannot be said with absolute certainty but we believe it would have”. 

Musk went on to defend the safety record of Autopilot, pointing out that Tesla cars using the system are averaging over 200 million miles per fatality compared to the US average of 89 million miles per fatality. He went on to say that: “I think it’s quite unequivocal that Autopilot improves safety”, later adding that: “I think it would be morally wrong to withhold functionality that improves safety if it’s just to avoid criticism or to not be involved in lawsuits.“

What do you think of Tesla's Autopilot 8.0 upgrade? Let us know in the comments section below...

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