Update March 2019: Tesla changes the Autopilot options. See this article for the changes.
The Tesla team is continually improving Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, the technology that allows Tesla vehicles to nearly drive themselves under supervision, and new updates are being released on a regular basis. As the number of Tesla vehicles grow, Tesla is able to collect ever-more information from the fleet’s onboard cameras and sensors. It uses this data to ‘teach’ the Autopilot neural network (AI) how to become a better virtual driver.
The Future: Full Autonomous Driving
Of course, the big future promise from Tesla has always been full autonomous Level 5 (what do Levels mean?) driving, which would allow cars to fully drive themselves but there have been numerous delays bringing that promise to fruition, as the challenge has been much greater than auto manufacturers have expected. However, with the advanced AI hardware being released in 2019, it’s hoped that more autonomous driving features of the Full Self-Driving option will be released soon.
Update February 2019: Elon Musk Claims Full Self Driving to Be ‘Ready’ by End of 2019.
See other autonomous demonstration videos from Tesla.
Near Term: Gradual Full Self-Driving Improvements
In the near term, we’re going to see slow but steady improvements to the Full Self-Driving set of features as Tesla continues to upgrade its capabilities, especially with Hardware 3 coming out in mid-2019, which will provide much more computing power.
Navigate on Autopilot – Automatic Lane Changes
Navigate-on-Autopilot was the big news in late 2019, allowing Tesla vehicles with Full Self-Driving (or the older Enhanced Autopilot) to fully navigate from “on-ramp” to “off-ramp” on freeways, only requiring the confirmation of suggested lane changes by the driver. Tesla has said that once enough ‘real-world’ data has been gathered, they expect to release an option allowing the vehicles to automatically change lanes.
When asked how things were coming along to remove the lane change confirmation, Elon tweeted the following:
Pretty good. I have confirmation turned off on my engineering build & interventions are rare. Probably ready to enable no confirmation setting next month.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2018
Autopilot on City Streets
Other smaller, but significant updates are slated soon, according to Tesla and Elon Musk. In mid-December 2018 Elon tweeted that Tesla is working on the following enhancements that would make using Autopilot on city streets much safer (it’s not recommended today):
- Traffic light detection (ETA late 2019)
- Stop sign detection (ETA late 2019)
- Navigation of roundabouts (TBD)
Here’s his tweet:
Already testing traffic lights, stop signs & roundabouts in development software. Your Tesla will soon be able to go from your garage at home to parking at work with no driver input at all.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2018
Musk also claimed that Tesla owners should soon be able to drive from home to work without any driver interaction at all. The Tesla CEO did not have a timeline for these rollouts at the time of his tweets, but Tesla now lists traffic light and stop sign detection as being available at the end of 2019. The roundabout feature will likely take longer to implement.
While 2019 sounds promising, one potential hurdle faced by Tesla comes from the federal government. There are no laws on the books that mandate the regulation of autonomous vehicles on the road. Even if Tesla Autopilot moves closer to fully autonomous driving, it is unclear what, if any, effect it may have on drivers.
Several videos posted to the internet by Tesla and Tesla drivers show that some vehicles already navigate city traffic, stop signs and traffic lights just fine on Autopilot. Still, Tesla warns drivers that they must still be fully alert and ready to take over when Autopilot is engaged.
Another exciting feature coming soon to Full Self-Driving is ‘Advanced Summon’. This goes far beyond the basic current Summon capabilities (see our Autopilot review article) according to speculation and some hints from Elon’s tweets.
There have been quite a few rumors. Here’s what we understand ‘Advanced Summon’ the Summon could possibly contain:
- Find a spot – drive around parking lot to find empty space (likely only in private lots, not public streets). See video above.
- Summon from parking spot in private lot to your location.
- Follow drivers “like a pet” as they walk
- “Remote control mode” that allows drivers to operate their Tesla vehicle like an RC car via their Tesla app.
- Locate an owner’s phone (find my phone)
Elon tweeted that Advanced Summon should be coming soon, since regulatory approving has been given:
Now, exactly which of these features will roll out as part of ‘Advanced Summon’, we’ll have to wait and see, but they should be some amazing improvements, nonetheless.
In conclusion, it’s exciting to see new features roll out as the over-the-air software updates are one of the things that make Tesla so special. With the release of Hardware 3 in mid-2019, we expect the Full Self-Driving feature set to accelerate even more in in the future. 2020 should be an exciting year for autonomous driving and Tesla owners!
Recent Software Updates
Check out the most recent Tesla Software Updates for Autopilot here to see the latest changes.