Tesla is integrating the hardware necessary to offer fully-autonomous functionality in its vehicles. The firm will add eight surround cameras to provide 360º visibility around the car at up to 250m of range.
It will also introduce 12 updated ultrasonic sensors allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead according to the firm.
Tesla said: “Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving transportation 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.”
Every vehicle produced at the OEM’s factory – including the Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability, but vehicles already on the road won’t be able to have the system retrofitted as it’s seen as too costly.
Tesla’s founder Elon Musk said: “[I] should mention that retrofitting to full self-driving hardware is very difficult. Cost delta is more than buying a new car.”
With so much data flowing into the vehicles engineers have also had to increase computing power too. The OEM will use Nvidia's Drive PX 2 autonomous computing system which is more than 40 times more powerful than the previous generation, runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software.
Although Tesla has already begun installing the necessary hardware for fully-autonomous functionality, it won’t be switched on until further testing has been conducted.
“Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving. As these features are validated we will enable them over the air, together with a rapidly expanding set of entirely new features. As always, our over-the-air software updates will keep customers at the forefront of technology and continue to make every Tesla, including those equipped with first-generation Autopilot and earlier cars, more capable over time,” said Tesla.
While testing takes place, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lose certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation hardware, including features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control.
Tesla’s first generation systems had come in for criticism after a fatal accident involving one of the firm’s Model S sedan’s, raising questions about the vehicle’s semi-autonomous functionality, and how able it was to recognise objects and differentiate between dangerous and non-dangerous situations.
Tesla’s answer was to update the system’s software so vehicles used data from every onboard sensor available.
But the introduction of the new hardware suite shows Tesla’s confidence in the system and its determination to push autonomous functionality.