• 07.19.16

Musk pledges “significant improvements” to Tesla Autopilot through software update 

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet the company can deliver “significant improvements” to its controversial Autopilot system through an over-the-air software update.

The system, which allows Tesla vehicles to automatically stay in lane during highway driving, came under fire after a series of crashes in which the feature was apparently engaged, including one where a Model S on autopilot drove under the body of an 18-wheel trailer, killing the Tesla’s driver. 

Critics say the Autopilot name can make drivers overly optimistic about the car’s ability to drive itself, and that Tesla doesn’t do enough to make sure drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road in order to take over in an emergency.  The deadly crash also led to speculation, including by a Jalopnik writer, that the Autopilot system have a front-facing blind spot above the hood.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has sought data from Tesla as it investigates the crash, and Consumer Reports has called on Tesla to rename the feature and do more to keep drivers’ hands on the steering wheel. Other carmakers’ similar features, like Mercedes-Benz‘s Intelligent Drive system, will disengage after a few seconds with no wheel contact, Car and Driver reported when Autopilot debuted last year.  Musk said in a Sunday Tweet that the company’s customers have no desire to see Autopilot turned off.

Tesla hasn’t yet released a timeline for the software update or explained exactly how it will boost Autopilot’s capabilities. The company has successfully addressed some safety issues in the past through digital software updates rather than traditional physical recalls and rolled out Autopilot itself, in cars with the supporting hardware, through such an update.SM