Telsa's Autopilot update could have prevented fatal crash -- and future UFO collisions

Tesla Autopilot

This driver posted a video on YouTube showing his use of Autopilot in rural areas without his hands on the steering wheel.

Credit: YouTube

Tesla wants to help you avoid hitting UFOs.

Seriously, that is in the company's latest press release. There is also some other stuff in there, about the Autopilot 8.0 update and how it will help increase driver safety, but it really all boils down to UFOs. So how is it going to do all this (more safety, fewer UFO collisions)?

In IT Blogwatch, we keep our eyes peeled for unidentified flying objects. 

So what are these updates? Alexandria Sage and David Shepardson give us the background:

Tesla... [is] updating its semi-autonomous driving system Autopilot with new limits on hands-off driving that likely would have prevented a fatality in May...the update...will be available within a week or two through an "over-the-air" software update [and will] rely foremost on radar to give Tesla' a better sense of what is around them and when to brake.

Radar, huh? How is the automaker going to do that? Shawn Knight fills in the blanks:

Up to this point, the radar system has been used solely as a supplementary sensor...however, Tesla believes radar can be used as a primary control sensor alongside the camera...Because of how strange the world looks in radar, the to avoid false alarms.
To solve the issue...version 8.0...unlocks access to six times as many radar objects...The system will also assemble radar snapshots -- captured every tenth of a second -- into a 3D “picture” of the world. This will help the system determine...the probability of a collision.

But that's not all! The Tesla Team shares what is is like seeing through radar:

This is where fleet learning comes in handy. Initially, the vehicle fleet will...[map] the world according to radar. The car computer will then compare when it would have braked to the driver action...If several cars drive safely past a given radar object, whether Autopilot is...on or off...that object is added to the geocoded whitelist.
When the data shows...false braking events would be rare, the car will begin mild braking using radar...As the system confidence level rises, the braking force will...increase...The net effect of that the car should almost always hit the brakes correctly even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero visibility conditions.

Well, thank goodness for that. A UFO landing on the highway has always been my main concern. Any other updates coming to version 8.0 of Autopilot? Andrew Khouri has the details:

“Autosteer”...will force drivers to pay attention. The car will repeatedly warn drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. If those warnings are ignored, the driver will have to re-engage the self-driving program.
The Autopilot feature includes machine steering, collision avoidance, assisted lane changing and adaptive cruise control...although the human driver is expected to remain alert and take over the controls when necessary.

Let's get to the bottom line. How do users feel about all this? Hookgrip has an opinion:

It still feels to me like level 4 self-driving vehicles are 5 - 10 years off. But...I'm happy that by the time I'm too old to drive myself around, I should be...have a car do that for me.
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