Tesla's Safer Autopilot Update Coming Next Week

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter early today (Sept. 16) that the company hopes to roll out Tesla's Autopilot update this coming Wednesday, hopefully eliminating a problem that may have led to a fatal crash this past May.

"Hoping to start WW rollout of 8.0 on Wednesday if no last-minute issues discovered," Musk's tweet read.

On Sunday (Sept. 11), Musk told reporters on a conference call that the new version of Autopilot would "very likely" have prevented the death of Joshua Brown, an Ohio man who died when his Tesla Model S drove into a tractor-trailer truck that was crossing a highway in Florida.

MORE: Tesla Self-Driving Death Needs to Spur Changes

"While there are dozens of small refinements with Version 8 of our software ... the most significant upgrade to Autopilot will be the use of more advanced signal processing to create a picture of the world using the onboard radar," the company wrote in a blog post Sunday.

Until now, Autopilot has disregarded radar warnings of obstacles unless a car's cameras see the obstacles too. Tesla said the Autopilot software update will take six times as many radar snapshots as before to create a more accurate, 3D rendering of obstacles. As a result, the car will now respond to radar warnings without waiting for camera confirmation.

Tesla's explanation of Brown's fatal crash was that neither Brown nor Autopilot saw the white truck trailer against a brightly-lit sky. Reliance on radar detection alone might have forced the car to stop or swerve.

Earlier this summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defects Investigation requested detailed documentation on Tesla's Autopilot system, including information on all crashes, injuries or deaths caused by the Autopilot system.

And in July, Consumer Reports wrote that Tesla should stop referring to the system as "Autopilot" altogether, because it misleads drivers and can be dangerous.

Earlier this week, Amnon Shashua, the chairman and CTO of the Israeli company Mobileye, said Mobileye severed ties with Tesla earlier thjs year because Tesla was "pushing the envelope in terms of safety," according to a Reuters report. Mobileye develops computer vision and collision-avoidance systems for motor vehicles.

Tesla says the Autopilot feature is meant to assist drivers on the road, but not to take over entirely. It doesn't count as a fully-autonomous driving system, but could still give the government and drivers alike a reason to hesitate before accepting fully-autonomous cars as safe for the road.

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