Every car Tesla makes moving forward will be equipped to drive itself, though drivers won’t be able to turn the feature on just yet.
The car manufacturer announced Wednesday that all the cars its factory produces will have the necessary hardware (note: not software) for level 5 autonomy, the highest possible level of autonomy as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
On a press call Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk announced the decision and said the company had already achieved “a safety level we believe to be twice that of a person, maybe better.”
Musk said that the forthcoming Model 3 and all other cars Tesla produces going forward, including newly made Model S and X Teslas, will have the necessary hardware for full autonomy, which he referred to as “hardware two.”
Though the outward appearance of the models will likely be largely unchanged, there will be many more cameras and more computing power.
“We go from one camera to eight cameras, three of which are forward cameras, and we have 360 degree visual coverage around the car,” Musk explained, before moving on to the computer. “The computer power increases by a factor of 40…basically a supercomputer in a car.”
That computing will be separate from the rest of the car’s computing power (like the computer that controls the entertainment system) for safety purposes. The new cars will also have better ultrasonic sensors (read: sonar) and other minor changes. According to Musk, the new hardware and computing power are necessary for full autonomy, which Teslas with older hardware are simply incapable of. (Sorry, early adopters!)
Despite the fact that anybody who buys a Tesla from now on will have all this hardware, the capacity to actually have the car drive itself won’t be available yet. That’s because the software is still being developed and tested, and regulators are only just starting to roll out rules regarding self-driving cars.
Asked whether Tesla would roll out features ahead of regulations, Musk emphasized the company would not.
“We’ve always rolled out our autonomous functionality within the regulatory framework of any given country,” he said “We look carefully at the regulation and make sure that what we do is in line with those.”
However, he seemed very optimistic about Tesla’s timeline for demonstrating a fully self-driving car. He said that by the end of next year Tesla hopes to stage a demonstration where a car will drive from Los Angeles to New York City without human help. Unlike other car companies aiming to make fully autonomous vehicles, like Volvo, Musk said Tesla wouldn’t be offering blanket indemnity for accidents involving fully automated cars. The company will pay for accidents resulting from problems with Tesla’s hardware or software, but leave the rest up to individual drivers’ insurance companies.
Musk also had harsh words for what he described as over-coverage of several Tesla crashes involving Autopilot this summer, including the first reported fatality involving Autopilot in Florida on May 7, which led the NHTSA to open an investigation into the driver-assisting software. Tesla has disputed that Autopilot was active in some of these cases, and says the program has reportedly saved lives as well.
Musk also expressed dismay over the “paucity” of media coverage of the 1.2 million yearly global traffic deaths, presumably referring to a World Health Organization figure from 2013. He went so far as to pin responsibility for potential traffic deaths on reporters.
“If you’re writing an article that’s negative, that essentially dissuades people from using autonomous vehicles, you kill people,” he said.