When Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk teased last week that he would be making a big announcement on a new product that is "unexpected by most," there were a lot of theories on what exactly would be unveiled.
An update on the Autopilot technology of Tesla Motors was one of the suggestions, but given the controversy surrounding it, it was not the most popular guess. It seems that Musk's announcement was indeed unexpected, as the unveiled product presents the next step from the Autopilot driver assistance system into fully autonomous vehicles.
According to Musk, all electric vehicles that Tesla Motors is currently building will roll out equipped with all the necessary hardware to be fully self-driving. Musk said that the hardware will allow all future Tesla Motors vehicles to achieve what is coined as "level 5 autonomy."
This does not mean that these vehicles are capable of fully autonomous driving as soon as they are received by customers, though. This is because the software that is necessary to make such a thing happen is not yet ready. However, Tesla Motors will be introducing new features related to the technology with software updates that vehicle owners will receive over the air.
Musk said that all Tesla Motors electric vehicles being produced will come with eight cameras instead of just one and 12 updated ultrasonic sensors that can detect both soft and hard objects at almost twice the distance from before to provide a complete 360-degree visibility. The vehicles will also be powered by a computer that has 40 times the processing power compared to what was previously be seen in the company's products.
While the self-driving system is being developed, it will function behind the scenes in "shadow mode" so that it would be able to demonstrate on what instances it would have been able to prevent an accident that a human driver was not able to avoid.
Existing Tesla Motors electric vehicles will not be able to upgrade to add the fully self-driving hardware. In addition, once the software is ready, owners of vehicles equipped with the hardware will need to pay an additional $8,000 to activate the self-driving features.
In the question-and-answer portion following Musk's announcement, the Tesla Motors CEO claimed that anything that prevents the development and adoption of self-driving cars is, in effect, causing deaths. Musk called out media coverage of all incidents that have been related to the company's Autopilot system, while glossing over the 1.2 million people that die each year due to accidents caused by human error.
"Because, and really you need to think carefully about this, because if, in writing some article that's negative, you effectively dissuade people from using an autonomous vehicle, you're killing people," Musk said.