Tesla Motors has initiated a self-driving feature for thousands of its all-electric Model S vehicles. The new software upgrade will add an autopilot mode, and allow the vehicles to drive, change lanes, and parallel park without requiring assistance from the driver.
This latest technology is aimed at decreasing the frequency of car accidents.
The autopilot software works primarily by relying on cameras, sensors, and a sophisticated radar component installed in all of the vehicles. When driving a Model S on the highway, these systems constantly scan and interpret data such as speed, lane marker locations, relative location of any nearby vehicles, and other important safety information.
But the autopilot feature is not meant to replace driver interaction and responsibility, altogether. For example, if drivers want to change lanes, they still have to check their blind spots before hitting the turn signal to initiate the automated lane change. However, if the Tesla senses another vehicle in the next lane, it will continue going straight.
Also, the Model S will turn off autopilot if the driver grabs or turns the wheel. Alternatively, it will sound a series of loud, attention-grabbing beeps if the driver doesn’t put his or her hands on the wheel every few seconds. If the driver doesn’t respond to the beeps, the car will flash a warning for the driver to take control of the wheel. Without a driver response to the repeated warnings, the vehicle will eventually slow to a stop and turn on the hazard lights – all on its own.
When using autopilot a driver theoretically has a greater level of control over the vehicle, as it can automatically adjust speed when steering into a curve, and also maintain a safe speed limit for current road and weather conditions. Advocates of this driverless technology say it could dramatically reduce the 33,000 car accident-related deaths on U.S. highways every year.