Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a conference call that it will be upgrading its autopilot program so that its Model S and Model X vehicles will do a better job at sensing obstacles and knowing when to brake.
According to CNET, the new Tesla self-driving system will now be more dependent on radar instead of cameras and will improve its ability to avoid rear-ending accidents. These new changes come as Tesla faces scrutiny over a May accident when an Ohio man was killed in a traffic accident when his Tesla vehicle in Florida failed to break in response to a passing truck.
The update will happen over the air over the next two weeks. By placing more emphasis on radar, Tesla plans for the radar to be able to detect dense objects just up the road such as other cars or large animals such as moose. Furthermore, Musk states that Tesla vehicles will be able to bounce radar signals off of other cars and pavements. This will allow its vehicles to have a wider sensory range and detect problems which a driver may not be able to see.
According to Musk, these improvements could reduce crashes by more than 50 percent from their current rates. But Musk emphasized that these safety updates are no substitute for a human driver. For example, Tesla’s radar “may not work for something like a small deer.”
The updates come as Tesla tries to answer questions relating to how the safety of its vehicles. Tesla’s newfound emphasis on radar over cameras may be a result of the aforementioned Florida accident. According to Tesla, the vehicle’s cameras failed to detect the white truck under the bright Florida sky and thus the car did not stop.
Musk claims that the new updates would have prevented the Florida accident. However, safety experts are concerned that Tesla’s Autopilot would encourage accidents because drivers will assume that the autopilot will drive for them and thus not pay attention to the road. For example, Consumer Reports has questioned whether Tesla’s marketing of Autopilot has “promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the Model S was capable of truly driving on its own.”
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