Tesla Motors, whose CEO is billionaire investor Elon Musk, is an American company which designs, manufactures and sells electric cars and their vehicle components. Tesla has traditionally been known as an innovative company, which often breaks ‘the mold’, only to reinvent it. As Mark Boyadjis writes, “Tesla…has pushed the envelope beyond what most automakers though possible…[enabling] it to move faster, work more efficiently, and create groundbreaking new ideas around sustainable mobility and automotive technology.”
Now, Tesla has again inspired awe from some individuals when it announced a few software updates on Thursday. In addition to a program that tracks the distance from one charging station to another to alleviate driver anxiety about “running out of juice,” the company also announced that it would be adding an “autopilot” function to its Model S fleet of cars as soon as this June. At this time, the autopilot feature would be limited to use on highways or at very slow speeds, but eventually, drivers could have their cars park themselves, as reported by Marketplace. Back in October, Elon Musk announced driverless cars would be available in the near future.
One should note, however, that Tesla is not the first company to introduce an autopilot function. Audi and Mercedes-Benz have previously unveiled “connected, self-driving” concept cars. And in fact, Audi drove its concept car from California’s Silicon Valley to Las Vegas, a distance of approximately 550 miles. As reported by Business Insider, “The autopilot system allows the car to change lanes and speed ahead of other cars but works only up to a speed of 70 mph.” In order to navigate, the Audi test car used a series of radar sensors, laser scanners and cameras in different positions to provide an accurate picture of the surrounding environment.
Speaking to The New York Times, Dieter Zetsche, the head of Mercedes-Benz cars and chairman of Daimler AG described the self-driving car as a luxury carriage, “that could provide a peaceful, relaxing oasis for riders.” Filled with touchscreens and potentially integrated with ones smartphone, such a vehicle could be available within five years.
This is decidedly not the vehicle Musk described at his news conference. In fact, PC Magazine reported, “The truth is, Tesla isn’t really doing anything novel with its new array of driver-assist features that several other car makers aren’t also doing, many of them having started a lot earlier…It could even be argued that Tesla is pretty late to the party with the Advanced Drivers Assistant System (ADAS).”
Still, Tesla’s announcement is yet another step forward for automakers in general, many of whom would like to see self-driving cars in the future. In fact, many believe the technology is already here to create “bona fide driverless cars right now.” However, manufactures would like to better understand potential government regulatory decisions about these cars as well as issues of liability were a vehicle to be involved in an accident. For now, Thilo Koslowski, a researcher of automotive practice told PC Magazine, that the future is coming fast and will be disruptive, so perhaps it’s best if we all buckle our seat belts.
(Photo courtesy of Windell Oskay)