Starting today, all Tesla vehicles will come with the hardware necessary for full autonomous driving. The current Autopilot system is capable of Level 2 autonomy, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a conference call that the new hardware will be capable of Level 5 operation.
Called Autopilot Hardware 2, the new equipment suite utilizes eight surround cameras, three of which are forward-facing, to cover 360 degrees visibility around the car at a range of up to 250 meters. In addition, Hardware 2 features 12 updated ultrasonic sensors that can detect objects at almost twice the range of the current system. Forward-facing radar returns, but gets a processing upgrade and a new redundant wavelength that provides additional data. This allows the system to see through rain, fog, dust, and even the car in front, according to Tesla. What makes Hardware 2 possible is the new onboard computer with more than 40 times the computing power of the unit crunching data in previous Autopilot systems.
Tesla says Model S and Model X vehicles with the new hardware spec are already in production and available for purchase today. The company previously announced that the Model 3 will come standard with Autopilot hardware, and today confirmed that will be the new Hardware 2 suite. However, before activating all of the new features, Tesla will run the sensors in “shadow mode” over millions of miles to ensure that the improvements work as intended. The automaker says this means that for a time many first-gen Autopilot features, including automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, won’t be available. After the features have been validated they’ll gradually be enabled over-the-air. Tesla also promises new features for models equipped with Hardware 2, but earlier models with the first-gen system will be out of luck as Musk says it’s not possible to upgrade to Hardware 2.
Tesla faced intense scrutiny after news broke of a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model Susing Autopilot in May, with Consumer Reports pressuring the company to scale back Autopilot functions until they can be perfected, and more recently the German government urging Tesla to change the Autopilot name. With this new hardware, Tesla is doubling down on Autopilot, which will one day be worthy of its name if Musk’s assertions are accurate. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines Level 5 as “full automation,” capable of operating “under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.” Of course, it will be some time before regulations allow for that level of automation to be used.