Your Tesla Is About to Become Autonomous

Illustration for article titled Your Tesla Is About to Become Autonomous

Earlier this week, we heard billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk describe his vision for the future of self-driving vehicles. Turns out, when Musk said "we'll be there in a few years," what he actually meant was, his company, Tesla, will be there this summer.

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On Thursday, Musk announced that Tesla's Model S sedans would be receiving a software update this summer, one that'll allow the cars to start driving themselves—at least some of the time—in a hands-free autopilot mode. You can think of your Tesla like a Pokemon—one day soon, it's going to evolve, and suddenly, it won't need you very much anymore.

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However, your Tesla miiiight still need you to help get it out of trouble with the authorities, because, as the New York Times reports, Musk's bold move has raised some pretty serious legal questions. To wit, it's not entirely clear that autonomous driving is actually legal just yet.

According to the New York Times:

"There's a reason other automakers haven't gone there," said Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book. "Best case scenario, it's unclear. If you're an individual that starts doing it, you'd better hope nothing goes wrong."

Mr. Brauer said while a handful of states had passed laws legalizing autonomous vehicles, those laws were written to cover the testing of driverless cars, not their use by consumers.

"It's not just a philosophical reason why automakers haven't allowed their vehicles to drive themselves," he said. "There's a legal reason, too."

Tesla, of course, is defending its autopilot system, saying that there's nothing in the technology which conflicts with current regulations. Perhaps it's more of a legal gray-area, like asteroid mining, an endeavor that Musk's private spacefaring company SpaceX is also dipping its toes into.

In addition to autonomously driving itself on highways, your Tesla will be soon be summonable via smartphone and able to park itself in your garage. It'll also receive new tools to help drivers monitor the status of charging stations, which is a good thing, because it seems we'll have very little else to do.

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Lest you fear that this is the beginning of the machine takeover, Musk assures us that it's not. Even though the billionaire has warned that we might be "summoning the devil" with more advanced forms of AI, when it comes to autonomous cars, Telsa says we can all sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. [New York Times]

Top image via Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

Musk said the autonomous feature will be initially intended for highway traffic, which, according to himself and in agreement with common sense, is actually the easiest part of driving. Just maintain a certain speed, keep within lane limits, and avoid other cars with similar behavior and you're good to go.

My biggest concern is that is means the human at the wheel will have to resume driving duty at the moment of leaving the freeway and negotiating urban streets. What if the person takes a nap in the meantime? First, they'd have to be woken up — easily done with some sort of audible alarm — and then be all groggy for some minutes. That could be a serious risk to everyone.

Maybe waking up the driver some 15 minutes before they were required to engage the wheel could solve that, but still. Am I just to paranoid?