Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a press conference last week about the release of the latest version of the company’s software for the Model S and X. The update added new and improved autonomous features to the automaker’s fleet.
During the press call, Musk reiterated that the current sensor suite the company is using to implement new autonomous features will not support full autonomous driving, but the CEO was extremely vague about the timing of the roll out for the new hardware suite that could enable fully self-driving cars.
When asked about when Tesla plans to build in new Autopilot hardware in the Model S, Musk answered:
“Well we don’t want to comment on future product transitions, but it’s certainly not immediately. We are working on a new hardware suite, but it will be some time before it enters production.”
This new hardware suite is required for Tesla to introduce a fully autonomous system, which Musk believes could be ready in about two years:
“I’d be very surprised if it’s beyond that point. […] Within that timeframe [24 to 36 months], It will be able to drive on virtually all roads at a safety level significantly better than humans.”
The timeframe Musk is referring to coincides with the expected launch of the Model 3, which Tesla recently confirmed is on track to hit the market in late 2017.
Even though the timing makes sense for the Model 3, some are worried that the system might not be included in the car due to Tesla aiming for a much lower base price of $35,000 versus the Model S’ $70,000 base price.
Tesla not only uses the sensor suite to incorporate driver assist and convenience features, but also autonomous safety features. In the Model S and X, every car comes equipped with the sensor suite and the safety features it enables, like automatic emergency braking and steering, but the company sells the activation of the convenience features — Autosteer, Autopark, Lane Change and Summon — for $2,500 at the point of configuration for the vehicle or $3,000 after delivery.
Considering Tesla recently joined several automakers in a commitment to include automatic emergency braking on all new vehicles, the Model 3 will without a doubt be equipped with a sensor suite to allow the safety feature. It is also unlikely that Tesla will develop a hardware suite only for safety, if they already develop the feature on the same suite for the Autopilot and other autonomous features.
Tesla is partnering with Mobileye for its Autopilot hardware. The current system consists of a forward-looking camera, a radar, and 360 degree ultrasonic sensors. Mobileye revealed that it is developing a similar, but new system that could allow fully autonomous driving.
The new system includes a forward-looking trifocal camera, a radar, four additional cameras around the vehicle and one camera looking back. The suite will be powered by five of the company’s EyeQ3 chip, which Tesla recently confirmed it wants to use in future products.
Mobileye CEO Ziv Aviram said that the new suite was already being tested by an automaker without specifying which, but he said during a recent conference that Tesla is willing to push the envelope “faster and more aggressively than any other OEM.”
Tesla is expected to unveil the Model 3 in late March. We should know more by then about the vehicle’s self-driving potential. Although, even if the Model 3 ships with the new hardware suite, it doesn’t mean the car will be fully autonomous right away. Tesla will likely update the vehicle over time.
For example, Tesla started equipping its vehicles with the first generation Autopilot hardware in September 2014, but the company didn’t release the Autopilot update until October 2015.