Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the electric car company is making major improvements to its vehicles’ Autopilot system, which will dramatically reduce the number and severity of crashes they are involved in.
The news comes after the driver of a Tesla Model S died in May, after crashing into a tractor-trailer while using the semi-autonomous mode.
Musk thinks the improvements, which will roll out globally in the next fortnight in the form of a software update, would have prevented that crash.
He called the upgrades a “massive enhancement,” but said Tesla cars are already the safest on the road. “Things are already good,” said Musk. “It’s about going from good to great.”
He acknowledged there’s no such thing as perfect security but predicted the improvements would cut the accident rate for Tesla vehicles by more than half.
Tesla’s Autopilot system can maintain a set speed, keep the car within its lane, and brake automatically. Radar, which was added to all Tesla vehicles in late 2014, helps the car detect things that may be blocked to cameras in bright sunlight or bad weather. The improvements call for Autopilot to rely more on radar and less on vehicle cameras. As part of that shift, the radar will use more advanced signal processing to create a better picture of the surrounding world.
Tesla said one of the biggest challenges was the need to eliminate false positives.
Slamming on the brakes is crucial if a driver is about to hit another vehicle but not if they’re about to hit something smaller, such as rubbish on the road. These stops always have the potential to cause injury, making a false positive potentially dangerous.
Musk said the company was able to solve that problem through software improvements.