One of the most impressive new features that Tesla announced today with the Autopilot’s new radar processing capacity is the ability for the system to see ahead of the car in front of you and basically track two cars ahead on the road.

Tesla’s Autopilot currently has the ability to track a vehicle in front of you on the road (like the blue car in the picture above) and accelerate, decelerate or brake according to that vehicle, but what happens if that vehicle’s response time is not good enough and your Tesla ends up simply following it into a crash?

The upcoming v8.0 software update has a solution. It’s able to bounce the radar signal around the car in front you and see beyond it.

Here Musk explains the system during a conference call with the press on Sunday (Transcript by Electrek):

Radar sees through rain, fog, snow, dust, and essentially quite easily. So even if you are driving down the road and the visibility was very low and there was a big multi-car pileup or something like that and you cant’ see it, the radar would and it would initiate braking in time to avoid your car being added to the multi-car pileup.

In fact, an additional level of sophistication – we are confident that we can use the radar to look beyond the car in front of you by bouncing the radar signal off the road and around the car. We are able to process that echo by using the unique signature of each radar pulse as well as the time of flight of the photon to determine  that what we are seeing is in fact an echo in front of the car that’s in front of you. So even if there’s something that was obscured directly both in vision and radar, we can use the bounce effect of the radar to look in front of that car and still brake.

It takes things to another level of safety.

Additionally, when asked by a reporter whether the new feature could also work if the car in front of the Tesla is very low – implying that it would block the signal – Musk answered:

“It would have to be very very low. The radar transmitter-receiver is located on the lower grill at the center of the car so it’s really maybe – I’m just guessing here – a foot above the ground. Even if there was a 6-inch clearance or less on the car in front, it would still be able to see the echo. It will also try to bounce around the car, through the glass house of the car, it really going to be listening for everything that is an echo that still as the original signature – each pulse as little signatures – so even if it is faint it notices that pulse because of the signature.

We have this to tell us that it’s that pulse and not a prior pulse, and we have the photon time of flight. That’s how we are able to see something beyond the car in front of you.”

Fascinating.

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