All Tesla Cars Now Have Full Self-Driving Hardware

Image: Tesla

Tesla just dropped more info on its upcoming Model 3 electric car -- y'know, the one we can all afford. It, along with Tesla's current cars, are now being built with the hardware to make full self-driving autonomy possible.

A few days ago, a cryptic Tesla tweet suggested a "new product" would be unveiled today, and we now know -- thanks, Elon -- that the product in question is the second part of the announcement of the Model 3, an electric car for a wider market than the luxury Model S and Model X. Musk tweeted before the initial Model 3 unveiling that Part 2, which "takes things to another level", would be announced closer to production. He said then that "some important elements will be added and some will evolve", and that's clearly what we're seeing here with Part 2.

That Part 2 is that all cars being built by Tesla, including the upcoming Model 3, will include full self-driving features.

Here's the news, straight from the mouth of Elon Musk:

"The basic news is that all vehicles exiting the factory have the hardware for Level 5 autonomy -- the cameras, the compute power. On the order of 2000 cars a week have hardware capable of full self-driving autonomy. It'll take us some time in the future to complete validation of the software and get the required regulatory approval, but the important thing is that the foundation is laid for the cars to have the full autonomy of a safety level that we believe to be twice the safety of a person or better. We think that's pretty unexpected by most.

"The Model 3 will also have the hardware necessary for full autonomy. In fact this is all Tesla Vision software, we're not using any third-party software or anything.

"This is a Tesla-developed neural net and although it's somewhat hardware independent -- we could run this on Nvidia, AMD or Intel, although we picked the Nvidia Titan GPU as the main chip for the neural net -- it was a pretty tight call particularly between AMD and Nvidia. Although we decided that Nvidia had the better hardware."

Meet Nvidia's Artificial Intelligence Computer For Autonomous Cars

Asked about whether Tesla would offer customers indemnity for crashes under autopilot, Musk said that would be up to individuals' insurance policies. "Autopilot is much like an elevator in a building -- does Otis take full responsibility for all elevators around the world? No." Musk also took the point to mention that media coverage of autopilot crashes has been loud, but coverage of manual crashes, in order of 1.2 million per year, relatively vastly under-reported by comparison."

The feature-set initially will be disabled for the first couple of months. According to Elon, "cars with hardware 2.0 -- the full autonomy suite -- will initially have less self-driving features than hardware 1.0. In a couple of months after we go through validation, Every couple of months we hope to release significant improvements in autonomy. We'll be able to demonstrate a fully autonomous drive from a home in LA to a car park in New York, without the need for a single touch -- including the charger."

In vehicles with the new hardware, autopilot is different. It won't exist in the sense that autopilot already exists in Tesla's Model S and Model X. "The new hardware is what will enable self-driving, which is different to autopilot. Autopilot is a word that's been in use for half a century; it doesn't represent self-driving in the same way that autopilot in a plane makes it self-flying."

Nvidia's Self-Driving Car Learns From Other Drivers

Two options will exist -- there will be an 'enhanced' autopilot similar to the existing setup but with extra forward and rear cameras and significantly improved sonar and much more processing power. This will help the cars deal with multiple freeways and onramps. Then there will be "full self-driving capability" that will take care of more complex tasks including urban driving and an eight-camera setup. "There'll be two options for people to pick when buying the car", according to Musk, because the fundamental hardware difference for hardware 1.0 cars means that the sensor suite will continue to get better over time but that will not rival a hardware 2 setup.

Musk has shared more details on the technical aspect of the new hardware, too: "We go from one camera to eight cameras, three of which are forward cameras -- there's redundant cameras looking forward. And there's 360-degree camera coverage. Compute power increases by a factor of 40 -- that's a gigantic increase in computing power. The computer will be capable of 12 trilliopn operations per second. Basically a supercomputer in a car. There's a new ultrasonic sonar, working at around twice the range of current sonar and that works at 360 degrees around the car. There's also other things like the GPS is more accurate."

To activate the full self-driving suite, it'll cost owners $US8000. That's a big jump from the $US3000 that the existing autopilot costs new purchasers.

Tesla Model S Autopilot: Australian Hands-On (Or: The Time I Damaged The Car I Was Reviewing)

Regulators will decide on when and whether Tesla's self-driving features will ever see the light of day in countries like the US and Australia, but Musk says it will operate in 'shadow' mode and gather data. "It's not up to us, it's up to the regulators. If it's different in every [US] state, In the EU we're confident it'll be a uniform standard. It's a question of what the public think is appropriate, what the regulators think is appropriate."

Musk has said that it doesn't have any plans to offer the system to other car manufacturers, though. "This is very hard to turn into a kit. It requires a very tight integration of software and sensors and computing power as well as very large over-the-air updates. Unless you look closely, you can't even tell that a car is hardware 1 or hardware 2. We've been so careful -- nothing's sticking out, this in no way makes the car ugly, there are no weird protuberances. It's all incredibly subtle. The car is as beautiful with hardware 2 as it is with hardware 1. And there's no way to turn that into a kit and put it into another car."

On the safety of self-driving, Musk said that the proof is in the pudding, and statistics alone don't clearly represent the increase in safety that self-driving provides. "There are many more minor accidents and serious accidents than there are fatalities -- so that provides a richer metric for discussing the safety of autonomy versus non-autonomy. And [autonomy] just gets better over time."

The Nvidia-powered self-driving hardware is fully siloed off from cars' existing operating systems, too, says Musk: "We definitely don't want the car to crash because it's visiting the wrong website."

"I usually have the latest software update a day after the QA team, I test every aspect of the car. Then it goes to our Early Access customers, around a thousand technically savvy users around the world, who are cogniscent of using [the new software]. Then we'll roll it out in shadow mode -- what we mean is that cars are not actually taking action, but they're registering when they would have taken action. If a car has an accident, it would know if that accident would have been avoided, or if it would have done something that would have caused an accident -- false positives and false negatives.

"At the point where it's unequivocal that turning on a software feature would increase safety, we turn it on. We don't turn it on before that.

Musk is, understandably, bullish on the potential advantages of self-driving features, both the company's existing Autopilot and future tech: "It would be crazy to turn off something that is preventing accidents."

We'll see some videos later today of Tesla's full self-driving feature in action.

Here's the announcement from Tesla:

Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving transportation safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future. Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver, lower the financial cost of transportation for those who own a car and provide low-cost on-demand mobility for those who do not.

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.

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 breaking, 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.

Trending Stories Right Now