Tesla's autopilot already better than human drivers

By Todd C. Frankel

Tesla Motors Model S Charging At Burlington Washington Supercharger. Photo / AP
Tesla Motors Model S Charging At Burlington Washington Supercharger. Photo / AP

Tesla on this week unveiled new software updates to improve the self-driving capabilities of its vehicles, including new limits on highway speeds and a way for owners to "summon" their empty vehicles.

But Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said he already believes the technology has proven itself, even though Tesla introduced the self-driving software into its fleet of vehicles only late last year and even that didn't turn the vehicles into fully autonomous vehicles.

"It's probably better than a person right now (at driving)," Musk said during a conference call with reporters.

Musk also expects rapid improvements over the next 24 to 36 months, when a Tesla "will be able to drive virtually all roads at a safety level significantly better than humans," he said.

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Tesla tweaks the software running its vehicles by analyzing data from the hundreds of millions of miles driven by current owners. The automaker is constantly updating the autopilot software, which it still considers to be an unfinished "beta" product. But, Musk said, he was not aware of any accidents caused by auto pilot. He said the closest scenario were accidents where drivers mistakenly believed they were in auto-pilot mode.

The new software updates show the progress Tesla appears to have made - what Musk called "baby steps" toward fully autonomous vehicles.

With the "summon" feature, a driver can tell her Tesla to park itself or pull out from a parking spot or garage.

For now, the driver has to be standing nearby. But Musk said he sees that changing quickly.

"I think within two years you'll be able to summon your car from across the country," Musk said, allowing that he might be a little optimistic about the time frame.

The automaker also pushed out new limits on its current autopilot driving feature. Now, Teslas in autopilot mode will be capped to driving 5 mph over the speed limit on undivided highways and in residential neighborhoods. Also, the autopilot feature will now slow - like a human driver might -- when driving along curved roads.

- Washington Post

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