Perhaps one of the most important keys to developing robust, safe, and effective autonomous vehicles isn't something tangible, or even something humans can build. It's not a particular car, or advanced sensor suite, or even the software that controls the hardware. The most important ingredient just might be data. Lots and lots, and then even more data. That's one reason why the deal between Mobileye ­– the autonomous driving system company with which Tesla famously parted ways – and Intel was worth so much. Now, with Tesla's most recent update, it wants to collect more data, in the form of video, from customers' cars to improve its autonomous driving capabilities, as Electrek points out.

Tesla's most recent software update improved a number of Autopilot features for cars equipped with second-generation hardware. Autopilot brings back most of the capabilities the company had when it was still powered by Mobileye, with Autosteer working at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour on the highway (up from 80 mph), and up to five mph greater than the speed limit off the highway (up from 35 mph). It also does more to brake or steer to avoid an accident. After the download, though, customers were asked to approve a data sharing policy that includes gathering video from the car's exterior cameras.

In the message that appeared in cars, Tesla says that to improve autonomous features, "we need to collect short video clips using the car's external cameras to learn how to recognize things like lane lines, street signs, and traffic light positions. The more fleet learning of road conditions we are able to do, the better your Tesla's self-driving ability will become." Tesla also asks for permission to share this data with its partners.

And it's true. While companies do their own self-driving testing to gather as much data as they can, when you use your own customers' cars as test vehicles, the opportunity – and the responsibility – to make them as safe as possible by gathering and applying as much data as possible is huge.

Tesla assures customers, though, that it will protect their privacy. "We want to be super clear that these short video clips are not linked to your vehicle identification number. In order to protect your privacy, we have ensured that there is no way to search our system for clips that are associated with a specific car." It also says that customers can change their minds at any time.

That doesn't mean, though, that some enterprising hacker like Jason Hughes can't grab video directly from vehicles at the salvage lot. But then again, if the data helps improve Autopilot, it could help keep those cars safely on the road and out of the junkyard.

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