Tesla vehicles soon will have all the hardware on board to drive themselves, representing a huge leap ahead of the rest of the automotive world by intrepid CEO Elon Musk, who announced the development on Wednesday.
But that doesn’t mean Tesla owners soon will be able to doze while their Model 3 handles the trip, because the software to support such a journey won’t be operational yet. And, of course, the regulatory world isn’t ready for self-driving cars either.
However, Tesla has begun equipping all its new vehicles as standard with the hardware, which includes a substantially increased and improved number of radars, sensors, and chips to make use of the massive amounts of data they will provide about the driving conditions and environment. Musk said his goal for the new system, which he dubbed “Hardware 2,” is to demonstrate a vehicle traveling in fully autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York by the end of next year.
Here's the new hardware at work https://t.co/XAZFJcNvuh
— Tesla (@TeslaMotors) October 20, 2016
For now, these moves put Tesla well ahead of competitors that are promising to field fully autonomous vehicles no sooner than two or three years from now. And to support his brand, this is a smart move for Musk. Tesla’s entire raison d’être is to beat the conventional industry to the punch with new technology; that’s certainly what the company’s fully electric vehicles have done.
Further, Tesla needs to move decisively past the negative vibes around its earlier collection of automated driving hardware, called Autopilot, which has been associated with at least one driver death and some other accidents as Tesla owners relied too heavily on the technology to pilot their vehicles.
“This hardware, combined with Tesla’s existing over-the-air capabilities” to update the self-driving software in its vehicles, said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelly Blue Book, “will allow the automaker to continue improving its self-driving capabilities with minimal inconvenience for owners. It’s a big up-front commitment to self-driving technology that other automakers may not be willing to make at this point.”
Musk was happy to spell out the move’s significance. “The foundation is laid for the cars to be fully autonomous at a safety level we believe to be at least twice that of a person, maybe better,” he told reporters.
But also, Musk noted, “It will take us some time into the future to complete validation of the software and to get the required regulatory approval.”
Or, as Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for Edmunds.com, told the Detroit News, “The question now is how and when will this technology be implemented in the real world. It’s like buying a 4K TV today. It might be cool to own one, but until networks start broadcasting regularly in 4K, it’s just a vanity purchase.”