Tesla Autopilot AP1 vs AP2 (vs AP 3) – Differences Explained

Tesla originally released Autopilot in late 2014 and has been pushing the envelope of self-driving capabilities ever since. While new Tesla vehicles do come standard with some basic “Autopilot” features (see Autopilot vs Enhanced Autopilot), the true self-driving characteristics come into play with Enhanced Autopilot and the promised Full Self-Drive feature which is no longer available for order since it’s likely too far out.

Since the original Autopilot (dubbed Hardware 1 or AP1) there have been a couple updates (AP2 and AP2.5) and new major update called Hardware 3 (AP3) coming in 2019. This article breaks down the differences in each one.

What is Autopilot?

First, before we dive into the different Autopilot versions, it’s important to explain what Autopilot means. In general, Autopilot on Tesla is the ability for the vehicle to almost drive itself, primarily on freeways (although it technically can also be used on city streets).

Not Autonomous Driving

It’s important to note that this is not autonomous driving, but instead what’s called Level 2 driving (see What Do Self-Driving Levels Mean?). This essentially means that the driver is required to pay attention at all times and have control over the car. While the car may be doing most of the work, there are plenty of unforeseen circumstances that may occur, that the system just can’t handle.

Dynamic Cruise Control + Autosteer and Lane Changing

In a nutshell, Autopilot in Tesla parlance means that the car can steer itself on low curvature roads with clear lane markings and automatically accelerate and decelerate with traffic, all the way from freeway speeds down to stop-and-go traffic. Note that this self-driving capability is an optional feature called ‘Enhanced Autopilot’
(see Autopilot vs Enhanced Autopilot). For this article, we’ll be referring to the Enhanced Autopilot self-driving features of Autopilot.

For a full breakdown of all the current Enhanced Autopilot features, see the full Autopilot review article here.

Hardware vs Software Updates

Tesla updates Autopilot features by updating hardware every year or two, or more frequently updating software.

Hardware, by definition, includes all the built-in sensors such as cameras, radar and computing systems. Hardware is updated much less frequently (every one or two years) than software and is generally called Hardware 1 (or Autopilot 1 or AP1), Hardware 2 (AP2), etc.

Software updates happen much more frequently (every month or two) and include new features the the entire vehicle, not just Autopilot updates. These software updates are usually called something like Version 7.0, Version 7.1, Version 9, etc.

This articles will be focused on the hardware updates (e.g. AP1 vs AP2).

Tesla Autopilot 1 – AP1

The original Tesla Autopilot system with semi self-driving capabilities was released in October of 2014 and available on the Model S, and later on the Model X. It was offered as part of the “Tech Package” and was a joint development between Mobileye (since acquired by Intel) and Tesla. It featured a single front-facing camera and radar to sense the environment plus Mobileye’s hardware and software to control the driving experience.

At the time, it was one of the most sophisticated systems on the market and pushed the envelope in terms of what such a system could do on a consumer vehicle. In fact, it was so good that when Tesla decided to build their own system, it took them years to catch up to the baseline Autopilot functionality in AP1.

AP1 vehicles were produced from 2014 to 2016.

AP1 Hardware Suite:

  • Front camera (single monochrome)
  • Front radar with range of 525 feet / 160 meters
  • 12 ultrasonic sensors with 16 ft range / 5 meters
  • Rear camera for driver only (not used in Autopilot)
  • Mobileye EyeQ3 computing platform

AP1 Core features:

  • Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), start & stop
  • Autosteer (closed-access roads, like freeways)
  • Auto Lane Change (driver initiated)
  • Auto Park
  • Summon

How To Identify AP1 Tesla Vehicles

The easiest way to quickly tell if a Tesla vehicle is AP1 is by looking at the side-panel signal indicators. If they have no built-in camera, they are AP1 (or no Autopilot at all). For example:

Tesla AP1 Side Panel Turn Signal
AP Side Panel Turn Signal (no camera)

In addition AP1 Tesla Vehicles will have a single front-facing camera above the rearview mirror on the front windshield (if it’s missing, the vehicle does not have Autopilot hardware at all).

Tesla Autopilot 2 – AP2

Tesla announced it would be parting ways with with Mobileye in July 2016 and begin developing its own self-driving Autopilot solution. Tesla felt that Mobileye was not moving quickly enough and that there was room for opportunity to provide greater self-driving features by using machine learning / neural networks which were coming of age at the time.

Hardware Included

In late 2016 Tesla began rolling out vehicles with Hardware 2, called AP2. A major change from before was that all vehicles would now come standard with Autopilot-ready hardware and that customers could either buy Enhanced Autopilot upfront (at a discount) or activate it later over-the-air for a slightly higher price.

More Sensors

The new hardware included a powerful NVIDIA AI computer, more cameras that covered all sides of the vehicle for a 360 view, and better radar and ultrasonic sensors.

Machine Learning Neural Network

Tesla was clearly signaling with this new hardware platform that machine learning / neural networks based primarily on camera inputs were the future. This was a big bet and luckily for Tesla, neural networks had advanced to the point where self-driving using a visual-based neural network had become feasible.

One big issue was that, at the time, Tesla’s neural network software was not yet up-to-par with Mobileye’s solution, so customers who purchased vehicles had inferior Autopilot experience until late 2017, when the software finally caught up with Mobileye.

AI Rain Sensors?

Ironically, one small item missing from AP2 hardware was rain-sensing windshield wiper sensor. Tesla decided to simply use the cameras the neural network to sense rain instead of using a dedicated. Well, since Tesla was so busy getting Autopilot up to par with Mobileye, it delayed the rain sensor capability until much later (and comically, it’s still in ‘beta’ today).

AP2 Tesla vehicles were produced from late 2016 onward.

AP2 Hardware Suite:

  • Front cameras (3 cameras, medium, narrow and wide angle)
  • Side cameras (4 total, 2 forward and 2 rear-facing, on each side)
  • Rear camera (1 rear-facing)
  • Front radar with range of 525 feet / 160 meters
  • 12 ultrasonic sensors with 26 ft range / 8 meters
  • NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2 AI computing platform

AP2 Core features:

  • Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), start & stop
  • Autosteer (closed-access roads, like freeways)
  • Auto Lane Change (driver initiated)
  • Navigate on Autopilot (on-ramp to off-ramp)
  • Auto Park
  • Summon

How To Identify AP2 Tesla Vehicles

As with AP1, the easiest way to quickly tell if a Tesla vehicle is AP2 is by looking at the side-panel signal indicators. If they have built-in cameras, they are AP2. For example:

Camera within the side panel indicators (AP2)

Tesla AP1 vs AP2 Differences

So what’s the difference between AP1 and AP2? A lot. These are two completely different hardware and software (at least for the self-driving portion) systems.

More Cameras and Upgraded Sensors on AP2

The AP1 hardware is limited to only one forward-facing camera and radar, while AP2 have eight cameras surrounding the vehicle for full 360 vision. This will, of course, allow for much greater environmental and situational awareness of the vehicle, for example, allowing the system to see whether there is a car or bicyclist in the adjacent lane. Additionally, the radar and ultrasonic sensors were improved for longer-range sensing.

Greater Computing Power on AP2

The AP1 platform was powered by Mobileye’s EyeQ3 platform which is essentially a hard-coded system to recognize objects. Tesla worked with Mobileye to enhance it for its vehicles, but it could only be pushed so far. On the other hand, the AP2 platform uses the NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2 computing hardware which is a powerful GPU designed for machine learning and neural networks. They are two completely different systems not compatible with one another and Tesla will not be updating AP1 much longer.

Future Upgrades

Since the AP1 platform is completely different, it will not be updated much longer. Tesla’s focus is on AP2 and beyond.

Upshot

If you want the latest and greatest Enhanced Autopilot, be sure to purchase an AP2 vehicle. If you just want basic adaptive cruise control with steering assist, then AP1 is fine.

Tesla AP2.5 Update

Tesla released a minor update to the AP2 hardware suite in mid-July of 2017, coined AP2.5 (although, not officially by Tesla). It included an updated forward radar with slightly longer range (558 ft / 170 m) and the NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2 with secondary node enabled (for redundancy). It was a relatively minor update and doesn’t appear to have any discernible functional benefits currently.

Tesla Hardware 3 (AP3) – Coming in 2019

In late 2018, Tesla announced it is developing its own processing Hardware to replace the NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2 it was using previously. This allows for 10X the current processing power and cheaper costs to produce. Current AP2 owners will be able to upgrade their NVIDIA cards to Tesla hardware (free for those who ordered Full Self-Driving or an extra charge for those who didn’t). It’s expected that AP3 will start rolling out to cars in the first half of 2019.

AP2 vs AP3 vs FSD

What’s unclear is how Tesla will manage updates between AP2 and AP3 hardware variants. For example, with the more powerful AP3 hardware processing capabilities, AP3 vehicles with Enhanced Autopilot may see better performance and/or new features not available for AP2. It’s also not clear what features Tesla will reserve for the long-promised “Full Self-Driving” feature versus adding to Enhanced Autopilot.

2019 should be an interesting year for both Autopilot hardware and software. Stay tuned!

Learn More

Learn more Tesla Autopilot in our full Enhanced Autopilot review article.