Why Tesla is relying on radar (and the cloud)

Image: Tesla Autopilot
Radar readings and camera views are fed into the Autopilot system on Tesla cars. (Credit: Tesla)

Tesla car owners are getting an upgrade to their Autopilot semi-autonomous driving software, but this won’t be your standard software upgrade: CEO Elon Musk says Autopilot 8.0 will put more emphasis on radar readings as well as crowdsourced, networked information about potential hazards on the roadway.

Musk said the upgrade might have prevented the kind of collision that led to the death of a Tesla Model S driver in May. “These things cannot be said with absolute certainty, but we believe it is very likely that, yes, it would have,” Musk told reporters during a teleconference on Sunday.

That accident involved a crash between the Model S and a freight truck that was making a left turn from the opposing direction. Preliminary data suggest that Autopilot’s camera system did not recognized the reflective signature of the truckagainst the background of a brightly lit sky. As a result, the car smashed with full force into the truck, killing Tesla driver Joshua Brown.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it’s investigating the accident.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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