Tesla is one of the few car companies in the world whose cars keep getting better with age. The most recent update to the Model S is free, and upgrades the car’s autonomous driving capabilities.
The new software update will improve the car’s autosteering capabilities on the highway, along with its automated parallel parking features. The most significant part of Tesla’s updates, though, are not the content, but the method by which the cars are updated. Most cars require a trip to the dealership in order to get updated, while the Tesla will automatically download updates over cell phone networks.
“Almost ready to release highway autosteer and parallel autopark software update,” the Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in a Tweet.
Improvement in the face of Challenges
Musk followed his Tweet with several others describing some of the challenges the car faces while it is trying to drive itself autonomously. “Final corner case is dealing with low contrast lane markings (faded white on grey concrete) while driving into the sun at dusk,” he Tweeted, before going on to say “The car will learn over time, but there is a min caliber of starting quality.”
Radar and sonar, which aren’t bothered by a lack of light, are used for the adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection. However, the lane departure warning uses a windshield-mounted camera. This camera can have trouble tracking the lane markers when they are faded and in low light. Ultimately, the problem is not the lack of light, but poorly maintained road paint.
Another challenge to be overcome by the forward-facing cameras is when they are being driven in to the sun, oncoming headlights, and even dirt on the windshield. Subaru and BMW use dual front-facing cameras to work together, helping to mitigate these problems, although not eliminate them completely.
Ideally, cars would be able to use GPS to center themselves in the lane, but GPS has a maximum accuracy of 9 feet; not enough to reliably position the car.
Consumer-Level Autonomous Driving Gets an Improvement
Tesla’s update mainly focuses on the Highway Autosteer. This is software that uses the car’s built-in sensors to assist drivers on highways with three main features. Adaptive cruise control uses sonar to maintain a constant distance from the car in front of it, while the lane departure warning does its best using cameras to keep the car in its lane, and blind spot detection tracks objects in the car’s blind spots.
According to Elon Musk, the new update should bring along various improvements to help improve the accuracy of these features. At the very least, we will likely see the next version of Tesla’s software do even more to help relieve drivers of their tired muscles, all while keeping them safer in the process.
One of a Kind: Over the Air Updates
One thing about Tesla’s software updates which deserves mentioning every time we get the chance is how they do it: over the air. While most cars require a visit to a dealership, or plugging USB flash drives into weird places under the steering wheel, the Tesla can install a software update with hardly any user intervention. This means that Teslas can get better with age, with very little effort.