The limits of the Autopilot under its current suite of sensors have been debated for a while, especially since Tesla has been discussing an upcoming second-generation hardware for the program to allow fully autonomous driving.

But last night, Elon Musk announced that “certainly moderate and maybe big advances” are possible with Tesla’s current sensors.

This bodes well for current Tesla owners since, like for when the first Autopilot hardware suite was introduced, a retrofit is unlikely to be available for the second generation – so the more Tesla can get out under the current limitations, the better.

It means that Tesla still sees potential for significant improvements on the software side for the current version of the Autopilot, which is enabled by a front-facing camera, a front-facing radar, and 360 ultrasonic sensors.

We already discussed in details the upcoming v8.0 software, which will bring improvements to the Autopilot, but having since talked to several individuals who experience the pre-release version of the software, while the new automatic off-ramp exit is a significant addition, the improvements to Autosteer and TACC would be best described as “noticeable” to “moderate”.

Elon is betting on a better reading of the radar feedback with “temporal smoothing” to make these expected improvements:

It looks like he is doubling down on staying away from lidar sensors, which would indicate that the Model S with a lidar mounted on top spotted at Tesla’s HQ earlier this month wasn’t for a future Autopilot generation, but like we said, likely for benchmarking a lidar system against its hardware suite. Tesla also did not confirm if they own or operate the vehicle.

Elon’s comment about decoupling the radar from the camera is interesting here, especially since it is understood that several Autopilot features already work decoupled from the camera. Tesla owners have driven with the Model S with the front-facing camera covered and since the Autosteer feature is mainly based on the GPS and high-resolution mapping inputs with the addition of radar if there’s a vehicle in front to track, the vehicle can still perform fairly well without it, but the camera is particularly useful to detect the lines on the road.

It’s very interesting how Tesla is almost alone in staying away from lidar, at least among the most important companies seriously developing autonomous and semi-autonomous driving systems.

We will keep an eye out for more upcoming improvements to the current Autopilot system and of course, Autopilot 2.0 information as well.

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