Tesla's fully autonomous cars: How they work and when they'll be available

tesla autopilot model s large

A Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged.

Credit: Tesla

Move over, Jeeves -- fully autonomous cars are on the way. 

Automaker Tesla, which already offers a semi-autonomous mode called Autopilot in its current cars, is stepping up its game with fully self-driving cars. So how will these cars work, and when will we see them on the roads? 

In IT Blogwatch, we go along for the ride. 

Fully autonomous, huh? So what exactly does that mean? Johana Bhuiyan has the background:

All Teslas will now be manufactured with hardware that will enable the vehicle to completely drive itself in all situations...That means when Tesla’s fully self-driving software is ready, all it will take is an over-the-air update to turn semi-autonomous Teslas...into fully autonomous cars.
...
The cars will also be equipped with new software that is 40 times more powerful than the existing software to better process information.

But what kind of hardware will the cars include? Kristen Hall-Geisler gives us an overview:

Tesla announced...that all of its vehicles...will have...eight cameras with 360-degree vision up to 250 meters...They will also be equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors that detect "both hard and soft objects,"...at twice the distance of the current Autopilot as well as forward-facing radar that can detect traffic and events through fog, rain, dust, and even the car in front of you.

That's a lot of hardware. But when will full autonomy be available, and how will the cars operate until then? Megan Geuss has the details:

The new hardware suite will mean that people who buy new Teslas now will temporarily have fewer Autopilot features available until the company has tested its new system...including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency breaking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control.
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If the system works as promised...it would take a person from Los Angeles to New York by the end of next year without touching any part of the car...Musk also said that the hardware would operate in “shadow mode” for testing purposes to perfect the way the software works with the hardware.

But why is it so important to have fully autonomous cars? The Tesla Team tells us their reasoning:

Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving...safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future. Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver, lower the financial cost of transportation for those who own a car and provide low-cost on-demand mobility for those who do not.

So how to people think this will all eventually play out? Eric M. Davis has one idea:

I can see a future @Pixar movie about a sad Tesla trying I find his lost owner who was kidnapped by oil execs.
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