Tesla

Among car companies, Tesla Motors is a leader in self-driving technology, although because it is an all-electric automaker, Tesla can hardly be considered a traditional car company. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, said in 2015 that the company was about two years from producing a fully autonomous car. Later, in 2016, Musk also revealed that he intends for Tesla to eventually build driverless, electric buses, in addition to its cars.

While a driverless car seems to be within sight for Tesla, they are taking a more gradual approach to autonomous technology, introducing features that make the car more and more self-driving. In October 2015, Tesla rolled out an autopilot feature for its Model S sedans, which was delivered wirelessly to cars as a software update. This autopilot mode offers assisted parallel parking, computer-aided steering and lane changing on highways, speed management, a more advanced warning system for imminent side collisions, and front and side collision prevention through digital control of the motor, brakes and steering. Autopilot also allows your car to scan for a parking space, and eventually, will even enable the car to come pick you up when summoned. It operates by using a combination of forward looking radar, twelve long-range sensors, a forward-facing camera, and processors. The system is designed to be used for predictable, straight highway driving. The autopilot feature is equipped with certain algorithms and sensors which allow it to gather information as it operates and consistently learn more information, which is then shared with other Tesla vehicles wirelessly.

When the new autopilot feature was enabled on Teslas, owners were warned to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to retake control. Tesla warned that autopilot was not fully autonomous driving, but many vehicle owners did not listen. Many drivers attempted to push the autopilot mode to see how far it could drive the car, and even took and posted videos of their experiences online. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrwxEX8qOxA for an example).

In October 2016, Tesla announced its next wave of self-driving technology, stating that its Model S, X and upcoming Model 3 sedan will now come with "the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver." These cars will have the hardware necessary to achieve Level 5 autonomy, but the hardware will not be usable by drivers yet. There are several regulatory hurdles yet to pass before consumers can utilize fully self-driving vehicles. In November 2016, Tesla released a video of its fully self-driving system, which you can watch here.

To read an interesting interview with Elon Musk about Tesla’s self-driving car work, visit http://fortune.com/2015/12/21/elon-musk-interview/.

After a May 2016 fatal crash while a Tesla was in autopilot mode, both regulators and the public became more critical of Tesla's current autonomous features. In August 2016, a Tesla was involved in a minor collision in China while in autopilot mode, though Tesla asserted that the driver's hands were not detected on the steering wheel and that all of its literature clearly stated that autopilot was a driver assistance system, not a self-driving feature. Another relatively minor crash was reported in Texas when a Tesla in autopilot repeatedly struck a guardrail after failing to navigate a curve. A fourth crash was reported in Germany when a Tesla in autopilot mode hit a bus that was changing lanes. During 2016, however, Tesla also received much praise from its customers. One Missouri man credited his Tesla with helping save his life after he suffered a pulmonary embolism while driving. He reported that the Tesla assisted him with staying on the road and in his correct lane until he could get near an emergency road. 

Following the fatal crash and other issues with its autopilot system, Tesla announced changes to its autopilot system. According to Elon Musk, Tesla will begin relying more on radar, rather than cameras, in its self-driving system. Musk asserts that this will increase safety and accuracy, and that the radar beam used will be able to go through rain, snow and dust, and even bounce under a car in front of a Tesla. Musk has told reporters that he believes this system would have prevented the May 2016 fatal crash.

In addition to developing self-driving technology, Tesla appears to be planning to unveil a ride sharing service in the near future. On the company's website, it states that Tesla drivers may not operate their cars in self-driving mode for revenue purposes, essentially stating that the autonomous mode cannot be used while driving for a service like Uber or Lyft. Instead, use of Tesla's self-driving feature while earning money will only be permitted on the Tesla Network.

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