Tesla Motors is flooring it on self-driving cars.
The electric automaker announced late Wednesday it is equipping all its vehicles ― including the Model 3, its first affordably priced car ― with the hardware needed for fully autonomous driving.
“All cars that Tesla makes for here on out will have hardware needed to be fully autonomous, or driverless,” Elon Musk said during a call with reporters. “That’s where things are.”
Unlike earlier iterations of Tesla’s self-driving technology ― such as its controversial Autopilot function ― the new hardware will enable its cars to navigate complex roads, such as city streets.
Tesla’s software, which improves as the company collects more data through its cars, will take time to match the hardware’s capabilities. By the end of next year, Musk predicted, all new Tesla vehicles will be able to travel from Los Angeles to the middle of New York’s Times Square without a driver touching the wheel. Every vehicle will come with eight 360-degree cameras and 12 “ultrasonic” sensors to detect obstacles at nearly twice the distance of the earlier system, along with 40 times as much computing power to process the data.
“It’ll take us some time into the future to complete validation of the software and get through required regulatory approval, but the important thing is the foundation is laid for cars to be fully autonomous at a safety level we believe to be at least twice that of a person, maybe better,” Musk said.
The company later released a video showing a Model S driving itself:
Regulators may prove to be a challenge. Just four states ― California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada ― plus the District of Columbia allow vehicles with limited self-driving capabilities to activate them on major highways.
“Hopefully in the U.S. things don’t become balkanized, so it’s different in every state,” Musk said. “In the E.U., for the continent, it’ll be a uniform standard.”
The move comes nearly five months after highway regulators began investigating a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S using the company’s limited Autopilot feature.
Musk vehemently defended the technology, insisting one accident ― in which the driver may have been watching a DVD ― pales in comparison to the roughly 35,000 traffic deaths caused each year in the U.S. by human error. But concerns stuck, prompting regulators in Germany earlier this week to demand that Tesla stop marketing the driver-assistance software as “Autopilot.”
On Wednesday, Musk seemed eager to move beyond the name.
“Autopilot has been used for more than half a century as a flying assistant in aircraft,” Musk said. “It does not represent self-driving any more than an auto-piloted aircraft represents self-flying.”
Musk, frequently lionized in the press as a sort of tech messiah, blamed the media for sensationalizing the crash.
“When you write an article that effectively dissuades people from using autonomous vehicles, you’re killing people,” he said.
In July, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation into Tesla over its failure to notify investors about the deadly May 7 crash. The accident could have affected the price of nearly $2 billion worth of shares sold 11 days after the traffic collision, according to a report in Fortune magazine. Musk aggressively contested the article.
Tesla is facing more competition than ever in the self-driving space. Uber rolled out a handful of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh last month. Alphabet-owned Google’s autonomous driving program hit a major milestone earlier this month, notching 2 million miles driven. A bevy of traditional automakers, including Ford, GM and Volvo, have announced plans for fleets of self-driving cars.