Tesla Updates Autopilot for Safer Operation, More Use of Radar

Tesla Model S

CARS.COM —Tesla has announced an update to its Autopilot electronic driver assistance system aimed at increasing accuracy and safety. The major change is a shift to primary dependence on data from the car’s radar sensor rather than relying on its camera image processing with radar as a supplement.

Related: Musk Stands Behind Autopilot, Will Increase Customer Education

The Version 8 update follows a fatal crash in Florida in May, in which the system failed to recognize and react to a semitrailer across the highway. The accident has brought increased scrutiny by safety regulators of the system’s operation and the way it is marketed to Tesla buyers. Tesla added radar to its Model S cars in late 2014 and rolled out upgraded software in 2015. Autopilot allows semi-autonomous driving on highways, with the system maintaining speed, steering, braking automatically and handling both lane keeping and lane changes. Safety activists such as Consumer Reports have urged Tesla to disable the automatic steering function and to stop marketing the system as an Autopilot.

The update also follows the company’s split in July with camera and digital processing supplier Mobileye. The company disagreed with Tesla over how its technology “was deployed.”

The software upgrade will be rolled out over the air in about two weeks and does not involve additional Autopilot hardware. Tesla says the revised software, dubbed Version 8, will use upgraded processing of the radar signals to create a better picture of road conditions. Tesla says the radar system, which will take 10 snapshots per second, will be able to “see” more objects and gather more information, including shape and movement of objects, without requiring the camera to confirm with visual recognition.

Tesla said the new software leans more heavily on radar’s capabilities, such as better performance in darkness and bad weather, while the additional data will minimize the possibilities of “false alarms” — inappropriate braking events — arising from the system incorrectly recognizing a potential hazard. The company said the system also will improve its accuracy in reading road conditions through “fleet learning,” data collected from other Teslas that have travelled the same road.

Another feature of Version 8 aimed to increase safety is a firmer warning to users to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take over control. According to Motor Trend,Tesla CEO Elon Musk told a web press conference that the Autopilot system would disengage if the driver ignores three warnings in an hour to put hands on the wheel. The system cannot be turned on again without stopping and parking the car. Driver inattention is believed to have been a factor in the Florida Autopilot fatality.

The automaker also highlighted an additional list of refinements to the system’s current operation, including the capability to take a freeway exit if the turn indicator is used.

 
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