Tesla Just Announced New Fully Self-Driving Cars, But There's A Catch

Autonomous Car

Let's just say they still need to undergo some testing first.

We’ve been eagerly awaiting the latest product announcement from Tesla founder Elon Musk for over a week. Naturally when we heard the word "product," our minds jumped to a new car, like the rumored Model Y. That's the product a car company makes, after all. Musk finally made his announcement today, and the bad news is that there’s no new car coming from Tesla any time soon. The good news is that the automaker has significantly advanced its efforts to create a fully self-driving car with a full suite of new hardware.

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“We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, 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,” the company’s press release stated.

In addition to adding cameras and sensors, Tesla also built a new onboard computer to process all the incoming data. That’s the good news. The bad news is that owners of cars equipped with this hardware won’t immediately be able to have their cars drive them around. Tesla will offer over-the-air software updates to unlock the hardware’s potential, but only after it has undergone stringent testing. Additionally, cars with the new hardware will not be able to access certain safety features that are available in Teslas already on the road. These includes automatic emergency breaking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control. The features will be reinstalled via software updates once testing is complete.

The other bit of bad news is that all Teslas built prior to this announcement will not be able to upgrade to what is being called Hardware 2. The reason behind this is a practical one: Installing all that new stuff would be a royal pain. In addition to the initial announcement, made on a conference call, Musk also held a Q&A session with reporters. Road & Track was on the call and reported that “Enhanced Autopilot” (available for all Teslas) was on the way. The new system will use four cameras to scan the road, instead of just one, and will be able to do much more on its own, such as change lanes, go from one highway to the next and exit a highway. During the Q&A Musk also revealed that the new self-driving equipment will tack on $8,000.

Tesla plans to demo its ridiculously safe self-driving car with a trip from New York to Los Angeles, which Motoring tweeted will happen by the end of 2017. For now the company is planning on showing off a video of its new self-driving Tesla “navigating a complex urban environment,” this according to a tweet from Elon Musk. Apparently this video is what caused the delay in the announcement. Here’s hoping it’s impressive. We really wanted to see a new car today.

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