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Tesla to roll out autopilot that uses radar sensing

Posted at 6:18 PM, Sep 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-11 18:18:37-04

NEW YORK — Tesla released details about the Autopilot software update that it will soon roll out to all Tesla vehicles.

In a blog post Sunday, Tesla said Version 8 of the software will add “more advanced signal processing” that will better help the cars avoid accidents. Tesla cars will get the update automatically in one to two weeks, CEO Elon Musk told members of the media on Sunday.

While the software used to take advantage of cameras and image processors, Tesla cars will now rely on radar detection as the “primary sensor” — which Tesla says will be able to prevent more accidents.

“Radar sees through most visual obscuration,” the blog post reads, so “the car should almost always hit the brakes correctly even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero visibility conditions.”

“Taking this one step further, a Tesla will also be able to bounce the radar signal under a vehicle in front,” it says. “The car in front might hit the UFO in dense fog, but the Tesla will not.”

While the feature is (controversially) named Autopilot, it’s not intended to allow drivers to take their hands off the wheels. Rather, it’s meant to prevent drivers from drifting out of a lane and assist them with emergency braking.

The software update comes after several crashes, including at least one fatal incident, while the drivers were using Autopilot, sparking widespread criticism and a federal investigation.

Musk initially promised “major improvements” to the software about two weeks ago and promised to provide details about the upgrade in a blog post on August 31. But the post never came.

He explained on Twitter Saturday that the delay was due to an “unusually difficult couple of weeks.”

On September 1, a rocket that SpaceX — Musk’s space exploration venture — intended to launch unexpectedly exploded on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral days ahead of its scheduled launch. As of September 9, SpaceX was still investigating the cause.