Tesla has just announced the latest update to its version 7.0 software of the Model S and Model X and the biggest and most important feature of this update will now allow autonomous driving for both models. The technology is called “Autopilot,“ and as of this writing, it should already be available to tens of thousands of Model S units in the U.S. through over-the-air updates on the car’s software system.

The Autopilot technology works by using a handful of data sources, including ultrasonic sensors placed around the vehicle, a forward-facing camera with image recognition capability, a 360-degree ultrasonic sonar that can see through various weather conditions, and a high-precision digital mapping system. These sources work hand-in-hand to determine the car’s position and navigational needs relative to its environment.

According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, drivers who enable the Autopilot system on their cars would be able to steer down the highway automatically, as well as change lanes and adjust the car’s speed in response to certain traffic conditions. It also has the capacity to scan for available parking spaces and park itself.

As good as all of that sounds, the system isn’t entirely autonomous, at least not yet. Drivers are still encouraged to exercise a little bit of caution when using the system since it’s still a “public beta” version. In other words, Tesla still needs to work out a lot of kinks in the system before it can advise drivers to use it liberally.

Unfortunately, not all models will have access to the Autopilot system. Cars built without the required sensors, for example, will not be able to have the system retro-fitted because it would cost a lot of time and money. Then there’s the part about which regions will allow for the system to be used above-board. North America will get it, although the cloud update will likely take a few days to finish and using it will require a one-time charge of $2,500.

Owners in Europe and Asia, though, are out of luck for the time being. The company is still working on receiving regulatory approval to install the patch in those regions, although Tesla says that it could be secured within a few days.

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Why It Matters

It’s interesting that Tesla would release this update as a beta version when it probably would’ve been more sensible to smooth out all the edges before putting it in the hands of Tesla drivers.

But I’m willing to bet that Tesla released it because it wanted to be the first in the game to do it in this scale. For the time being, Musk said that the Autopilot system will work best where there is proper road infrastructure with well-marked roads and dense traffic conditions. That means that it’s not advisable to use the system in city streets just yet. Eventually, the system will be taught enough functions that will allow drivers to have less responsibilities on the road. How long that’s going to take is still unclear, but Musk is confident that the system will progress rapidly enough that it could be turn into the game changer this industry has been waiting for.

Releasing it is a bold move by Tesla provided that it can trust its drivers to be prudent with the system, at least until the company can make the necessary updates and improvements on the tech. Musk even issued a warning of sorts, telling owners that accidents caused by the Autopilot system would leave the driver of the car liable. That’s fine and all, but even with these warnings, my issue is trusting some drivers to have some kind of restraint on going crazy with the technology.

I admit that it’s new and cool, but the fact that it’s both of those things is what makes me worried that somebody might have too much fun with it and endanger himself and others because of it.

Tesla Model S

2015 Tesla Model S High Resolution Exterior
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Source: Tesla

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