Google and Apple aren’t the only ones working on self driving cars. A select group of Tesla Model S owners will soon be beta testing the company’s first iteration of its Autopilot software.
The software release, known as Autopilot 7.0, is actually the latest iteration of the already installed driver assistance program that relies on the sedan’s forward facing camera/radar as well as its 360 degree sonar system.
One of the main goals of the release is to gauge user reaction to the presence of such a system and its interface as Tesla pursues the long-term goal of a driverless car.
The system will be able to handle lane keeping, vehicle spacing, and braking and acceleration tasks, but will still require a driver present to monitor the system’s performance as well as make turn signal indications.
One of the constraints on those participating in the beta test is their vow not to speak to anyone about the system. Though some have compared Tesla’s Autopilot to existing driver-assist technology present on Mercedes’ Intelligent Drive System, a new feature is Tesla’s summoning ability, in what might be thought of as a “virtual valet.”
Drivers will be able to command the car to approach their side at the push of a button, a feature that Tesla specifies should only be used on private property in order to avoid legal issues.
With self-driving cars one of the company’s long-term goals, CEO Elon Musk gave an estimate on the comparative safety that would have to be offered by such a system, “Probably we’d want Autopilot to be at least statistically 10 times safer than a person.”
If all goes well during the beta test, Tesla plans on a wider roll out later in the year.
Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick has declared that he would purchase all of Tesla’s cars if they were to be totally self-driving by 2020. As competing automakers develop their own offerings of autonomous vehicles, Kalanick’s idea is but one possibility for making an impact in the dawning age of driverless cars.