Tesla Autopilot promises better safety

New system will rely on radar rather than just cameras. Upgrade available with two weeks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 6:08pm

US electric carmaker Tesla Motors has upgraded its Autopilot function with new safety measures that restrict drivers from taking their hands off the steering wheel, after a number of crashes.

The new system, available for users to download within the next two weeks, will deactivate the Autopilot when drivers ignore audible warnings three times in an hour for having their hands off the wheel.

Once installed, drivers will need to pull over and restart the car to use Tesla’s Autosteer feature, which allows the car to steer itself as part of its Autopilot system, the company said.

While the cars are running at 8 miles (about 13 kilometres) per hour, drivers can keep their hands off the wheel, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters on Sunday.

They can have their hands off the wheel for 5 minutes when the speed is about 45 miles per hour, but above that speed the limit is about 1 minute, unless the Tesla has a car to follow, Musk said.

The new system came amid a number of crashes including one case in China.

Luo Zhen, the driver who crashed his Tesla Model S into an illegally parked car in Beijing last

month, admitted he did not have his hands on the wheel at the time.

“I shouldn’t have had my hands off the wheel and rely too much on the autopilot function,” he said on a post on his weibo, China’s micro blog.

But he claimed in the post that buyers were not told about the technology’s limitations.

The autopilot technology is not mature enough, so Tesla should provide strict guidelines for drivers to follow, to ensure safety
Zhang Yu, managing director of consultancy Automotive Foresight

Zhang Yu, managing director of consultancy Automotive Foresight, said the term “self-driving”, used by Tesla in its earlier marketing campaign, had confused some Chinese customers who might have overlooked the instruction requiring drivers to have their hands on the wheel.

“The autopilot technology is not mature enough, so Tesla should provide strict guidelines for drivers to follow, to ensure safety,” Zhang said.

Tesla removed the term “self-driving” from its Chinese website after the crash.

The new system will also make use of more-advanced radar technology, instead of the previous software which relies on camera images. The company claims the changes will make it easier to identify metallic objects on the road.

Musk said the software upgrade is a massive enhancement and is likely to have prevented a fatal crash in Florida in May that killed a Tesla driver.

That incident was the first known deadly crash tied to a driverless system after the Tesla’s autopilot failed to detect a truck because of poor weather and low luminosity.