If successful, Tesla will once again establish itself as the leader in autonomous tech

Following up on an announcement that all future Tesla models will come equipped with advanced self-driving capabilities, CEO Elon Musk has declared the technology will get a public demonstration by the end of next year. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the California-based automaker will send one of its models from Los Angeles to New York without any human assistance whatsoever.

The proposed cross-country tour was revealed last Wednesday following a blog post on Tesla’s website. In the blog post, the all-electric car producer said each of its models would come with the equipment needed for fully autonomous driving, including cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and radar, enabling “full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.” The stated end goal is transportation that’s safer, more affordable, and more accessible.

The fully autonomous features will be activated using an over-the-air software update issued at an unspecified point in the future. Prior to the feature’s activation, Tesla says it needs to clock “millions of miles of real-world driving” to help calibrate the system.

However, all Tesla cars currently being produced will include the necessary hardware, including the up-and-coming Model 3. This is similar to the strategy Tesla employed with its current Autopilot system.

New cars equipped with the fully autonomous hardware will not immediately offer the same Autopilot features as older models, including automatic emergency braking and active cruise control, among others. However, these features will be activated via updates currently planned for release every couple of months.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why It Matters

If Tesla actually manages to send an autonomous car from Los Angeles to New York without any human input, it would be a major step for not only the automaker, but self-driving technology in general. Similar fully autonomous trips have already been demonstrated, such as Audi’s 550-mile run from the Bay Area to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show last year, but a trip from LA to NY would be a first.

Autonomous driving advocates (including Tesla) champion the technology as the way forward for fewer accidents and road deaths, and a step towards real transportation sustainability. However, there are still many questions and roadblocks on the path to widespread adoption.

One of the biggest concerns these days is how safe self-driving cars really are. Telsa became mired in controversy over the summer when it was revealed that this past May in Florida, a Model S on autopilot collided with the side of a truck, killing the passenger. Tesla defended Autopilot, saying, “This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the U.S., there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.”

Musk also took issue with the media’s portrayal of the accident, maintaining that autonomous cars are still safer than human drivers.

However, that hasn’t stopped some from calling for an outright ban on the Autopilot system. Meanwhile, Dutch and German regulators have stated a desire to change the Autopilot name, arguing it implies the driver doesn’t need to pay attention, even though Tesla says the feature still requires a human driver to remain engaged while Autopilot is active.

Self-driving tech is still very much in the grey in multiple ways. There are moral issues on hand, such as the infamous “Trolley Problem,” which Mercedes tiptoed around recently, sparking widespread controversy in the process.

Regulation is another big question mark. The NHTSA recently came out with a 15-point self-driving checklist for self-driving technology developers, which came under heavy fire from advocates like Toyota for potentially hampering innovation.

These are all potential roadblocks that could crop up for Tesla’s proposed cross-country run. Then of course there’s the issue of recharging – how long will it take to get from Los Angeles to New York if the car needs to plug in every few hundred miles? Where will the car get its electricity, and who will connect the charger?

Regardless, it certainly appears as though fully autonomous cars will arrive in a big way in the next few years. Where do you stand? Are you for the tech, or does it make you a bit worried? Let us know in the comments.

Read our full review on the 2018 Tesla Model 3 here.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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