Tesla's unveiling the third part in its electric-vehicle triolgy tonight in LA, but before the event's actually kicked off, a leaked USA Today article (now retracted, but Google cache version here) seems to have blown the lid off the car's shiny new features. While the AWD dual-motor setup might grab most of the headlines, the Model D has some new intelligent technology that should make life on the highway pretty easy (and safe!) indeed.
According to the leaked report, one of the new headline features is the ability for the Tesla to recognize, and then obey, speed signs. Using an on-board camera, it should be a relatively simple exercise for the Model D to recognize speed signs, and then adjust itself to match. It's not the first cruise control that messes with your speed without you asking — radar-guided cruise control is actually pretty commonplace on higher-end cars these days — but a sign-recognition system that works reliably would be ground-breaking.
More importantly, it would be the first real step along the path of cars interacting with the roads that they drive on. For a truly self-driving car to work, it will need to be able to recognize all the signs and arrows that are set up for humans, and the ability to obey the speed limit is a pretty decent baby step.
Also showing up on the new car is an auto-lane-change feature. Using a system of twelve sensors around the car, the Model D is able to detect surrounding traffic, so that when you press the turn signal (yeah, you know, the stalk things covered in dust hidden behind the wheel?), the Tesla can check your blind spot, then change lanes if it's safe to do so.
Away from the tech, the Model D's main change is the addition of the expected all-wheel-drive system. Each set of wheels gets its own motor, which delivers a 0-60 of 3.2 seconds, and a small range bump of 10 miles. Shipping is expected for the top-of-the-line 85D model in December; whether or not you can get it under the tree is yet to be seen.
We'll keep an eye on Tesla's event, and update once things are officially official; but the way things are shaping up, this is one clever (and fast!) electric runaround.