Tesla made a major announcement this week on the prospect of self-driving cars, declaring that all new Teslas sold from this point forward will be upgradable to self-driving mode by the end of 2017.
All new vehicles, including the current Model X and Model S, the budget Model 3 and all unannounced Tesla vehicles, will have the hardware to enter a fully autonomous driving mode for no added cost. This not only creates an opportunity for consumers to begin purchasing self-driving cars immediately, but also allows Tesla to collect real-world data on human drivers as they begin to unveil more vehicles over the next year.
The self-driving hardware will come standard with all new vehicles, but the self-driving capabilities will also require a software update with an estimated $8,000 cost.
The hardware includes eight cameras that together create full visibility around the car, as well as RADAR and ultrasonic sensors. The software package will likely exist as an upgrade to the current Autopilot mode, in which a Tesla regulates its speed and maintains its position in a lane without driver assistance while traveling on highways.
Tesla paired its announcement with a three-and-a-half minute video of a Model S driving and parking autnomously in Palo Alto, California, where Tesla is headquartered. Though the video is short and does not show the car in any particularly challenging driving situations, Tesla’s comfort in making this announcement is surprising since the technology was not expected to be ready for a few more ears.
This announcement puts Tesla ahead of other auto manufacturers’ expected delivery dates for full autonomy. Google’s high-profile self-driving car is not expected until 2021, while predictions for autonomous vehicles from other companies like Uber are not expected until at least 2019.
The concept of fully self-driving cars hitting the road in the next year could force politicians to scramble to create laws to address the new technology. Only a handful of cities around the country, like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston, have begun drafting or passing laws related to the use of autonomous vehicles by consumers.
Traditionally, cars have been regulated by the federal government while drivers have been regulated by the states, which leaves driverless cars in a politically awkward situation.
This leads to possible future conflict between states and the federal government about the responsibility to regulate autonomous vehicles, a fight that could now have to reach a resolution by 2018.
According to analysts, Tesla has a reputable track record of being able to achieve its objectives in its quest to become the first successful American auto manufacturing startup since the Great Depression.
Its autopilot features were doubted upon their announcement as well, though they have rolled out with few major incidents since their release. Meeting the target to put the first fully autonomous vehicles on the road wlll be Tesla’s next chance to surprise its critics.