Version 8 of Tesla's Autopilot software will roll out on Wednesday evening for both the Model S and Model X.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk teased the release of the new software update a couple of weeks ago during a press Q&A. Musk says Autopilot 8.0 is a "major overhaul on almost every level" when compared to the software's version 7.
V8.0 starts downloading tonight. Release will be gradual to make sure there aren't small regressions. Many car configs, many environments.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 21, 2016
According to Tesla, Autopilot's version 8.0 comes with plenty of small refinements, more than 200 of them. However, the electric car company notes that the biggest upgrade that version 8.0 brings is the enhanced signal processing, which uses the onboard radar, to create an image of the world.
Tesla reveals that the radar came packed with the Autopilot hardware suite that was added in October 2014. While the radar started as just a supplementary sensor for the image processing system and main camera, version 8.0 of Autopilot turns it into the primary control sensor that doesn't require confirmation from the camera for visual image recognition.
The company explains that photons at wavelengths used by the radar to map its surroundings will easily pass through dust, snow, rain and fog. However, metallic objects would look like mirrors. Hence, objects like painted plastic and wood, including humans, will look translucent to a radar, but dish-shaped objects metallic surfaces will be reflective and will appear bigger than they actually are.
"The big problem in using radar to stop the car is avoiding false alarms. Slamming on the brakes is critical if you are about to hit something large and solid, but not if you are merely about to run over a soda can," writes the Tesla team in a blog post. "Having lots of unnecessary braking events would at best be very annoying and at worst cause injury."
With Autopilot 8.0, the radar can detect six times the number of objects and gather more information regarding each object. Tesla uses the radar's enhanced sensor capabilities in a couple of solutions. One allows Autopilot to calculate the probability of collision while the other uses the radar to educate the system on how to deal with stationary objects such as road signs, bridges and so on.
The team claims that the end result is that the car would brake correctly, most of the time at least. Coupled with the radar's ability to detect objects even with unfavorable weather conditions, the ride on Autopilot should be smoother and safer.
Musk notes that the changes implemented in Autopilot 8.0 would have saved Joshua Brown, the Tesla Model S owner who suffered a fatal accident on May 7. Brown reportedly had Autopilot on, but neither he nor the Autopilot recognized the collision with a tractor trailer.
The Tesla CEO revealed that his favorite new feature in version 8.0 is the always-on maximum temperature control. Musk says that Autopilot version 8.1 will allow always-on min and max to be set.
Tesla keeps temp below 40C/105F by automatically venting cabin & turning on AC when needed. Can do this for up to a year on a full charge. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 21, 2016