The future of "self-driving" vehicles is getting ever closer. Elon Musk, the head of Tesla, recently announced that all of its cars are now being made to allow for completely autonomous driving. Musk asserts that this technology provides a "safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver."
The vehicles, which are currently in production, are equipped with multiple cameras that provide 360-degree visibility for up to 250 meters -- greater than prior Tesla vehicles with autonomous driving features. They also have sensors that are better able to detect objects than in the past. Musk calls the upgraded technology a "supercomputer in a car."
Tesla's current autopilot technology has come under criticism following some accidents. However, Musk points to the "paucity of media coverage of the 1.2 million people that die every year in manual crashes." He insists that it's safe if used as it should be, particularly in "urban, low speed maneuvering."
One of the new features of the technology is a function that not only detects when a driver doesn't have his or her hands on the steering wheel, but will disable the autopilot system if drivers ignore more than one warning to keep their hands on the wheel.
Musk acknowledges that "it will take us some time to complete the validation of the software and get regulatory approval" for the autonomous vehicles. However, he says, "the foundation is laid."
Of course, "self-driving" vehicles will present legal quandaries. If a person is the victim of an accident caused by a person in a vehicle with autonomous technology, is the driver liable or the manufacturer -- or both? That will likely be something that will be determined on a case-by-case basis in the coming years.
Source: CNBC, "All Tesla vehicles being produced now have full self-driving hardware," Robert Ferris, Oct. 20, 2016