Elon Musk had fans of his Tesla electric car company charged with anticipation ahead of an announcement scheduled for late yesterday. Originally scheduled for Monday, it had been pushed back for needing "a few more days refinement." The company worked quickly, and while the announcement wasn't the expected update for the upcoming Model 3, it was certainly a big and bold move. Going forward, and on all cars currently in production, every Tesla will have self-drive hardware installed.
Now that doesn't mean that all new Teslas will be able to self-drive starting tomorrow. The software hasn't caught up yet, and despite Tesla's videos of the car driving to the office, it's not yet ready for a full roll-out. But since it's Tesla, when the time is right, that software will be sent to every car with the hardware and they will then be able to self-drive. All this tech won't be free though. A visit to the Tesla configurator shows that "full self-driving capability", which still needs approval from not just from Tesla but from regulators, is a $4,000 option on top of the $6,600 for Enhanced Autopilot on Model S. Model X is $4,200 and $7,100 for the features. They can be added after delivery as well, but for a significantly increased charge.
The new hardware includes eight surround-view cameras that can see up to 250 metres, 12 new ultrasonic sensors with increased range, forward facing radar that can see through weather and even the car in front, and a new onboard computer. The new hardware suite is comprehensive enough that it cannot be retrofitted to existing cars, with Musk likening it to a "spinal transplant."
In the long term, the announcement is a huge win for customers of the brand, but in the short term expect some suffering. Tesla claims that in the beginning, the new cars will actually have fewer features than the current Autopilot: emergency braking, collision warnings, lane holding, and active cruise control being the most notable absences. Tesla hasn't provided a timeline for when all of these features will be restored, but suggests a target of December 2016, and that it will require "millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience" before being implemented.
But Tesla and Musk are as always optimistic for the future, and the company hopes to "be able to do a demonstration drive of full autonomy all the way from LA to New York, from home in LA to let’s say dropping you off in Time Square in New York, and then having the car go park itself, by the end of next year.” The ability to do that so soon would put the company years ahead of many competitors. Some of whom don't expect this type of driving to be possible, even by 2025.
As far as a timeline for when the full self-drive (level five autonomy) will be turned on, that's still highly dependent on when regulators permit the systems and develop a framework to allow them. But this move from Tesla shows that they think they'll be ready when it happens.