Tesla update 8.0 release looms following Autopilot's fatal crash

Tesla model S
Credit: Paul Sableman/Flickr

Sometimes, you gotta wonder about timing.

Less than a week after Tesla announced a fatal car crash involving its Model S while in Autopilot mode, news of software update 8.0 coming to the cars is making headlines. Evidently, the two things are unrelated, but the timing is still raising some eyebrows.

In IT Blogwatch, we tease out the details.

Wondering what update 8.0 actually is? We get the pertinent information from AutoBlog:

Tesla will release update 8.0...the biggest interface refresh since the system was released.
One of the biggest changes will be to the company's Autopilot system...The update will move the system closer to...using the automatic lane change feature to allow Autopilot equipped cars to exit the highway autonomously. Currently, the vehicles are only capable of automatically changing lanes. Once the vehicle is on regular streets, drivers must resume full control.
In addition, update 8.0 will...improve the system's traffic awareness and smooth out the Autosteer feature. The Autopilot interface in the dash will better display where surrounding traffic is coming from.

Great, lot of new exciting features. But this doesn't mean Tesla's cars are meant to be left to their own devices. Fred Lambert issues an important reminder:

When Elon Musk first introduced the Autopilot, he made it clear that hardware limitations will not allow for a fully self-driving system...but he said that the system will enable self-steering on highways and self-driving at low-speed in parking situations.
As evidenced by the tragic reminder that came in the form of the fatal accident revealed last week...at all times...the driver needs to be ready to take control...yet...Autopilot was presented as enabling driving on the highway “ramp to ramp” without having to touch the steering wheel (to correct the trajectory -- Tesla still recommends keeping your hands on the wheel).

The update was reportedly in the works long before news of that fatal crash hit the wire last week, but that doesn't stop people from connecting the two things. Zach Epstein breaks it down for us:

Tesla has...been scrutinized for using its end user base as a mass beta test...Those criticisms boiled over...when Tesla confirmed that its Autopilot software was active at the time of a fatal crash...Now, the company is reportedly prepping a major update to its Autopilot software following that widely publicized crash.
Tesla’s electric cars managed to log 130 million miles without a fatal accident while Autopilot was enabled before the streak finally came to an abrupt and tragic end...Joshua Brown was traveling at high speeds on a highway with Autopilot enabled in his Model S when the car struck a tractor-trailer, killing Brown on impact.
In light of the recent fatal accident...Tesla’s Autopilot software is set to receive a major update in the version 8.0 release...Of note, none of the enhancements coming in version 8.0 would have prevented Brown’s fatal crash.

The whole thing is raising lots of questions about Autopilot. Bruce Brown reveals how people are misusing the feature:

Perhaps the greatest question of all concerns whether people can “collaborate” safely with driver-assisted vehicles.
The evidence of...people recording videos as they self-test...Tesla’s ability to drive itself is as disheartening as it is scary. In some cases, videos show people testing their Teslas by having friends jump in front of the moving car to see if it will stop.
It’s worthy of note that Joshua Brown had a near-accident a month before the fatality, and in the prior incident, he credited Autopilot for saving his life...Brown showed a video of the event and...asserted that...Autopilot was not ready yet to fully control cars.
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