Yesterday Elon Musk revealed to the world that all new Tesla cars that are rolling out of the factory right now feature hardware that allows for up to Level 5 autonomy. This basically means these cars can be used as fully self-driving vehicles, but for the time being these features will be locked. In fact, the new cars will temporarily have less Autopilot features than the previous generation as the company wants to ensure the system is up to the task.
Tesla cars with the new Autopilot hardware feature eight surround cameras with 360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range, twelve updated ultrasonic sensors with almost twice the range of the prior system, and a forward-facing radar with enhanced processing. To process all the signals from the sensors, Tesla uses NVIDIA hardware, presumably the Drive PX 2.
We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.
To make sense of all of this data, a new onboard computer with more than 40 times the computing power of the previous generation runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software. Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses.
When these features will be enabled is currently unknown. In a blog post, the Tesla team explains further testing is needed to ensure safety and convenience:
Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience. While this is occurring, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on Teslas with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control. As these features are robustly validated we will enable them over the air, together with a rapidly expanding set of entirely new features. As always, our over-the-air software updates will keep customers at the forefront of technology and continue to make every Tesla, including those equipped with first-generation Autopilot and earlier cars, more capable over time.
Here is an example of Tesla's new self-driving car tech in operation:
ARS Technica has a bit more background information and notes this "Hardware 2" will be unique to Tesla cars, it will not be sold to other car makers. But while the enhanced Autopilot promises greater accuracy, it will also cost a lot more. The original version was priced at $3,000 but the site says the new version will cost a whopping $12,000. Musk also explained that the new hardware will operate in "shadow mode" for testing purposes to perfect the way the software works with the new hardware.
By the end of 2017, Tesla aims to demonstrate it's possible to drive from Los Angeles to New York without touching any part of the car.