- Tesla is releasing its autopilot system as an over-the-air software update.
- The autopilot uses cameras, radar sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and GPS, to autonomously change lanes, search for parking, parallel park, and adjust speed.
- This will change people's perception of the future quite drastically, said Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
- Semi-autonomous driving will increase the appeal of Tesla cars and reinforce Tesla's powerful brand.
- The autopilot represents an important incremental step toward fully autonomous self-driving Tesla cars, which could hit the streets by the end of the decade.
Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is releasing its anticipated autopilot system, starting today (October 15) as a software update for Model S sedans made after Sep. 2014, as well as Model X SUVs. The autopilot uses cameras, radar sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and GPS, to allow a car to autonomously change lanes, search for parking, parallel park, and adjust its speed based on traffic flow.
Note: You might be interested in our Tesla stock analysis video.
"I think this is going to be quite a profound experience for people," Tesla's founder and CEO Elon Musk said on Wednesday in a conference call with media. "It will change people's perception of the future quite drastically." Musk added that the software is still at an early stage, and therefore it's important people exercise caution. "In the long term, drivers will not need to keep their hands on the wheel," he said. "Eventually there won't be wheels or pedals."
The Tesla announcement notes that the new Tesla Version 7.0 software release delivers a range of new active safety and convenience features, designed to work in conjunction with the automated driving capabilities already offered in Model S. "This combined suite of features represents the only fully integrated autopilot system involving four different feedback modules: camera, radar, ultrasonics, and GPS," reads the statement.
"Autopilot allows Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control," continues the announcement. "Digital control of motors, brakes, and steering helps avoid collisions from the front and sides, as well as preventing the car from wandering off the road. Your car can also scan for a parking space, alert you when one is available, and parallel park on command."
CNN Money tested the Tesla autopilot on Wednesday while driving up Manhattan's crowded West Side Highway. "The Model S kept to its lane nicely most of the time as the road twisted and turned along the Hudson River," notes the report. "It changed lanes smoothly on its own, avoiding other cars when the turn signal was turned on. When autopilot is engaged, a warning message tells drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel." The software promptly returns control of the car to the driver as soon as the driver tries to steer the wheel manually.
According to Wired, the big story is that the software update is being pushed over the air to customers’ Teslas overnight - just like iPhone software updates - and will hit every Tesla made and sold in the US in the past year over the course of this week.
The new semi-autonomous driving feature is likely to make Tesla cars more appealing to drivers, and reinforce the powerful Tesla brand and the image of Tesla cars as all-electric, high-tech, Silicon Valley cars that all tech-savvy consumers want to drive - if they can afford the price. Tesla cars are expensive gadgets at the moment - for example, the entry-level Model X costs $132,000 - but Tesla is committed to bringing the price of its semi-autonomous electric cars down. The Model 3, a smaller and lower cost sedan scheduled to start production in about 2 years with a price of about $35,000, could bring Tesla's cars to a much wider consumer market and result in handsome profits for the company and its investors, including individual investors in Tesla stock.
But the main interest of Tesla's move is that it shows the company's commitment to advancing incrementally, step-by-step, toward fully autonomous cars. Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is building an entirely self-driving autonomous car, but other makers, including Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Toyota Motor Corp (NYSE:TM) are betting on semi-autonomous cars and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-assisted driving. The first generation of fully or partly self-driving cars is likely to hit the street at the end of this decade or the beginning of the next.
"We will continue to develop new capabilities and deliver them through over-the-air software updates, keeping our customers at the forefront of driving technology in the years ahead," says Tesla in the autopilot announcement. Musk says that he sees full automation coming within about 3 years, and this is just a big first step. Tesla is pushing toward becoming a leader in autonomous electric cars, and all seems to indicate that the company could grab a significant share of the market, which is likely to push its stock upwards by the end of the decade. Therefore, investors should consider buying Tesla stock now.