Early this month, it was reported that Joshua Brown, the driver of a Tesla Model S, was killed while the electric vehicle was on Autopilot mode, making the incident the first self-driving car fatality.
Since then, more crashes involving Tesla Motors vehicles while Autopilot mode was activated have been reported. The company and its CEO Elon Musk, however, continue to defend the self-driving vehicle mode, refusing to disable the feature. Instead, Tesla Motors will increase its efforts to educate its customers on how to use the Autopilot feature and its limitations, so that drivers will not expect too much out of the self-driving car mode.
In the latest report regarding the issue, Musk revealed through Twitter that the company is looking to add improvements to the radar system of Tesla Motors vehicles in a bid to improve the Autopilot feature.
Working on using existing Tesla radar by itself (decoupled from camera) w temporal smoothing to create a coarse point cloud, like lidar
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 15, 2016
Our radar is using a wavelength of 3.9mm. A good size for both decent resolution and rain penetration. Am hopeful... — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 16, 2016
Musk tweeted that he had a promising conversation with Bosch, a Germany-based auto supplier which manufactures the radar for Tesla Motors vehicles, and that it is possible to make significant improvements to the system through over-the-air updates.
Mobileye, another supplier that makes sensors for Tesla Motors, has also shown support for the company in its bid to improve its Autopilot feature.
The changes that Musk tweeted that are being planned for the Autopilot feature will allow electric vehicles to more effectively detect objects even under rain, snow or bright sunlight, which is very relevant in the accident that claimed Brown's life. According to the company, the Autopilot system of the Model S did not detect a tractor trailer driving across the highway, due to the bright sky behind the white side of the tractor trailer.
Musk did not reveal any other details on the improvements being planned for the Autopilot feature, and also did not give a specific timeframe on when the updates will be rolled out.
Autopilot allows drivers to maintain the speed of their electric vehicles relative to the other vehicles on the highway, while keeping the vehicle in its lane. Tesla Motors, however, has repeatedly said that drivers should remain alert and ready to take control of their vehicle at all times while Autopilot mode is engaged.
The Autopilot mode requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. The system will frequently check whether the hands of the driver are on the steering wheel. Upon detecting no hands, an alert will go off and will slow down the vehicle until the driver's hands are back on the steering wheel.