And we aren't just talking about Autopilot. No, this is full-on Level 5 autonomous ability. Tuck into dinner. Read a book. Have a nap. Your Tesla will get you there. To be clear, Level 5 ability is a far cry from Autopilot's Level 3. The former is what the Society for Automotive Engineers describes as "full automation" under "all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver," while the SAE lists Level 3 as "conditional automation," which requires the driver to respond to requests for intervention. Put simply, Level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving.
Tesla's system, according to a blog post, relies on eight cameras that can provide a 360-degree view around the car at distances up to 250 meters (820 feet). Meanwhile, 12 "updated" ultrasonic sensors let a Tesla pick up hard and soft objects at twice the distance of the old sensors. Finally, a new "neural net" will make sense of all the visual, sonar, and radar data.
But the new tech still isn't technically ready for prime time. While Tesla is currently building Model S sedans and Model X crossovers with the new systems, the company said it will "further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving." That's going to mean new owners will, in the short term, be without certain features that were handled by the original Autopilot hardware, including "automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding, and active cruise control." Tesla will slowly re-enable these features via over-the-air updates as it completes validation. OTA updates are always good, but we aren't keen on Tesla shipping its two most advanced vehicles without increasingly common safety features.
This is, to be fair, a surprising announcement considering Elon Musk's bragging that we'd see "part two" of the Model 3. Anyone hoping for finalized interior design or additional powertrain details – raises hand – might find the news disappointing, but there's little denying that tonight's announcement could mark a big step forward in autonomous vehicle development.