Tesla Updates Autopilot Software, Relying on Radar to Prevent Future Accidents

Version 8 of Tesla’s Autopilot software has arrived, and the biggest change is how the car’s technology senses the world around it.

“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,” explains Elon Musk in a blog post. “The radar was added to all Tesla vehicles in October 2014 as part of the Autopilot hardware suite, but was only meant to be a supplementary sensor to the primary camera and image processing system. After careful consideration, we now believe it can be used as a primary control sensor without requiring the camera to confirm visual image recognition.”

Radar presents it own collection of problems, Musk points out.

“Photons of that wavelength travel easily through fog, dust, rain and snow, but anything metallic looks like a mirror. The radar can see people, but they appear partially translucent,” he says. “A discarded soda can on the road, with its concave bottom facing towards you can appear to be a large and dangerous obstacle, but you would definitely not want to slam on the brakes to avoid it.”

Avoiding false alarms is key to the safety of radar usage. Which is what Software 8.0 addresses. It unlocks access to six times as many radar objects with the same hardware with a lot more information per object. By comparing several contiguous frames against vehicle velocity and expected path, the car can tell if something is real and assess the probability of collision.

Fleet learning will also help radar vision become more intelligent as information to added to the Tesla database and analyzed.

Tesla hopes this will prevent future accidents like the fatal one which occurred in July.

The full list of changes in Autopilot 8.0 can be reviewed here.