Tesla has announced a Version 8.0 software update, which for its Autopilot driver-assistance system, switches the car’s primary sensor to radar technology as opposed to the camera and image processing system.
Touted as “the most significant upgrade to Autopilot”, Version 8.0 adds numerous features including the ability to take a highway exit if the indicator (8.0) or navigation system (from version 8.1) is active - though this will be exclusive to the US initially. Improved auto lane change availability and the ability to detect two cars ahead, is also promised.
For the first time, Tesla’s Autopilot system will rely heavily on the on-board radar that was previously used as a supplementary sensor to the primary camera and image processing system - installed from 2014 as part of the Autopilot hardware suite.
In its announcement, the company outlines three steps it has undertaken to ensure that the radar is a suitable primary sensor - as various non-metallic surfaces appear transparent while metallic surfaces look like a mirror to radars.
Firstly, Tesla has established a more detailed point cloud - a set of data points in the same coordinate system - which, with the updated software, “unlocks access to six times as many radar objects with the same hardware” providing more information per object.
The second part involves the vehicle assembling the radar snapshots into a three-dimensional ‘picture’ of the world around it.
Each snapshot takes place every tenth of a second, which makes it difficult to tell whether an object is moving or stationary.
Using several contiguous frames against the vehicle’s velocity and path, it can determine whether something ahead is real and assess the probability of a collision.
Finally, the most difficult stage is making sure the car doesn’t slam on the brakes when approaching an overhead highway road sign positioned on a rise in the road or a bridge where the road dips underneath.
Using fleet learning, the radar, camera and image processing systems will make note of the positions of road signs, bridges and other stationary objects, mapping the world according to the radar - but take no action.
If several cars drive safely past a certain radar object - regardless of whether Autopilot is turned on or off - then that object is added to a geocoded ‘whitelist’.
Meanwhile, if data shows that braking near an object occurs regularly, the vehicle will begin to brake using the radar, even if the camera doesn’t detect the oncoming object.
If the system believes it needs to slow down, the brake force applied will gradually increase to full strength when it is approximately 99.99 per cent certain that a collision is likely.
Tesla acknowledges that this may not prevent a collision entirely, though the impact speed will be significantly reduced, lowering the likelihood of serious injuries to the vehicle’s occupants.
According to the company, the radar’s ability to see through fog, dust, rain and snow means the vehicle should almost always hit the brakes correctly “even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero-visibility conditions”.
Thanks to the updated system’s ability to scan ahead of the car in front by “bouncing” the radar pulse signal under the vehicle in front, the company says the car will be able to brake even when trailing an object that is opaque to both vision and radar sensors.
Above: Tesla Model S
A spokesperson from Tesla’s local arm confirmed with CarAdvice today that the Version 8 software is an over-the-air update that is likely to be released globally over the coming weeks - though some features are limited to overseas markets for the time being.
For more information on Tesla software Version 8.0, click here.
Update: Tesla's Australian arm has confirmed that Version 8.0 will rollout locally in the coming weeks, and has detailed more features that come with the software update.
The vehicle's media player has been redesigned, while voice commands are claimed to be clearer and easier to use.
Maps and navigation have been updated to span for the entire 17-inch central touchscreen, with the control bar fading away when not in use.
New features in the navigation system include quick search tools with a single touch or voice command, zoom that adjusts based on location to prioritise important information, and automatically routing to frequently-visited destinations (like home or work) with a single downward swipe of the navigation button.
Trip Planner gives an overview of your journey before you leave, with maps that zoom out to display the entire route. Shifting the vehicle into 'drive' automatically starts the navigation.
Cabin Overheat Protection makes its debut with the new update, keeping the car at a safe temperature, even when turned off, focused on child and pet safety.
Updates to Autopilot have also been released in more detail, including tuning to make the program more responsive and smoother in stop-and-go traffic, an enhanced safety requirement that disables Autosteer during a trip when safety warnings are ignored, redesigned indicators, curved speed adaption now uses fleet-learned roadway curvature, along with Autopilot offsetting in lane when overtaking a slower vehicle driving close to the lane's edge.