Tesla Announces Autopilot and Range Assurance

In Sunday’s Tweet, CEO Elon Musk teased the answer to “range anxiety,” but some big news from Thursday’s announcement was that Tesla will soon be presenting an autopilot mode as well as the network connectivity to end range anxiety.

The next Tesla software update (Version 6.2) will include updates to the car’s ability to calculate the distance to the closest Supercharger station, including factors like terrain and heavy winds that can effect how far one charge lasts. A new “Trip Planner” will also warn the driver before they head out of range of one of the country’s 403 Supercharger stations.

The update also includes automatic emergency breaking, plus blind-spot and side collision warnings.

Range already isn’t much of a concern for Tesla owners since, according to Wired, “The Model S already has by far the best range of any battery electric car. The base version, with a 60 kWh battery, has an EPA-rated range of 208 miles, the 85D can cover 270 miles. Most competitors offer 80 to 100 miles.” It’s more about calming the concerns of potential Tesla customers.

So while the next over-the-air software update won’t actually improve the range of Model S sedans on the road, it will aid in giving drivers the information they need to prevent running out of juice while on a road trip.

The autopilot feature, though, is set to come out in Version 7.0, which will allow the car to take  control on highways. Laws and safety concerns prevent the technology from being used in places with traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks, mostly because the environment is too unpredictable to let the car drive itself.

“Autonomy is about what level of reliability, of safety, do you want,” Musk said. “Even with the current sensor suite, we could make the car go fully autonomous, but not to a level of reliability that would be safe in say a complex urban environment at 30 miles per hour, where the lane markings aren’t there, and children could be playing, and things coming at you from the side.”

Musk also cautioned that the autopilot feature should not be confused with self-driving, saying that the driver should always remain aware of what the car is doing. Also, the feature is currently illegal on most US roads, so for right now the dream of a self-driving car is still a bit in the future.