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Tesla’s Autopilot software is about to get much more advanced

Published Apr 19th, 2016 8:30PM EDT
Tesla Autopilot Software

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Once Tesla introduced its Autopilot software in late 2015, it instantly became clear that the reality of autonomous driving was going to come a lot sooner than perhaps most people expected. Naturally, the rollout of Autopilot also resulted in a number of thrill-seeking drivers pushing the software to dangerous extremes. For instance, you might remember one guy who put his Model S into Autopilot mode and then decided to just chill in the backseat.

But don’t let such ridiculous use-cases fool you; Tesla’s suite of Autopilot features is extremely advanced, powerful, convenient, and more than anything, can prevent accidents in everyday driving situations. In short, it provides us with a glimpse into what the future of driving will likely be like.

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Bolstered by an elaborate and advanced system of cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors, Tesla’s current incarnation of Autopilot can automatically steer a car down the highway and adjust speed in response to the flow of traffic. What’s more, a Tesla with Autopilot enabled can change lanes automatically, parallel park on its own, and even alert the driver when other cars or objects veer too close to the side.

Of course, Autopilot software today is still relatively new. Which is to say that the software is geared more towards assisting drivers than replacing them. That being the case, it’s only natural to wonder what type of improvements Tesla has planned for future versions of Autopilot.

To help answer that question, a recent article from Globes relays that Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently traveled to Israel for a not-so-secret visit with Mobileye, the company responsible for Tesla’s autonomous driving software. According to the report, Musk was there to take a look at some new autonomous driving features Mobileye has been working on.

The system Mobileye is developing for Tesla is the first of its kind in the world, and it combines several advanced technologies that enable the vehicle to identify its environment, avoid obstacles, and move without driver intervention.

Among the technologies are a system called DNN (digital neural network), which enables the vehicle to “learn” by gathering data on the move, and even to identify different kinds of road surface; free-space, which enables the automatic vehicle’s systems to identify areas without defined objects such as hard shoulders of roads, sidewalks, and so on, and avoid collisions and deviations from the road; a “holistic path prediction”, which enables a vehicle to select the correct path – on an open road, for example – even when there are no visual hints in the environment; and a sign identification system that can identify over 1,000 signs and road markings in use around the world.

Tesla’s deep interest in autonomous driving should, of course, not come as much of a surprise. Earlier this year, Elon Musk intimated that Tesla vehicles in about two years time will have advanced technology that will make it possible for a car to drive itself from New York to Los Angeles.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.