Tesla Self-Driving Autopilot Unveiled

Tesla model s 70D - H 2015
Courtesy of Tesla Motors

Tesla model s 70D - H 2015

The over-the-air software update will be uploaded to Tesla's Model S fleet in the U.S. starting tonight and will allow semi-autonomous driving in certain conditions.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unwrapped the carmaker's Autopilot at a press conference Wednesday and predicted that the software, which will be remotely uploaded to Tesla's Model S fleet in the U.S. tonight, "will be quite a profound experience — I think it's going to change people's predictions about the future" of driving.

Autopilot allows the Model S to drive itself on freeways, automatically change lanes and parallel park without intervention from the driver. It works by gathering information about nearby cars, lane position and other data from ultrasonic sensors, a forward-facing camera and radar, and GPS married to highly precise maps.

Musk said that Autopilot will continuously improve as data gathered by the approximately 60,000 Tesla models currently equipped with the cameras and sensors are analyzed by Tesla's computers and fed back to the cars in future software updates. That feature, he said, distinguished Tesla's autonomous driving system from those in use or in development by Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and other carmakers.

"The whole Tesla fleet operates as a network — when one car learns something, the whole fleet learns it," Musk said.

However, he did caution that the software's initial release is considered a beta version and that drivers need to be cautious. "We're advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel," Musk said. "You need to be ready to take the wheel at any time."

Musk predicted that in three years, Tesla will have perfected a system that will allow fully autonomous driving.

"The car will be able to take you from your driveway to work without touching anything — you could sleep the whole time very safely," he said, but added that getting the necessary regulatory approval would take several more years.

Tesla will charge Model S owners a one-time $2,500 fee to activate Autopilot's autonomous-driving features.

The software also will be available on Tesla's Model X SUV, introduced in September.