Tesla Upgrades ‘Autopilot’ with Features That Could Have Prevented Fatal Crash

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Tesla Motors revealed some big upgrades to its Autopilot feature — and CEO Elon Musk said that the improvements could have prevented a fatal crash earlier this year.

Version 8 of Tesla’s autopilot software shifts the car’s sensor technology to rely primarily on radar — rather than just cameras — to paint a picture of its surrounding environment. These changes will reportedly help Tesla’s cars “see” better, and could help the vehicles avoid future collisions, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The improved radar-based system could help Autopilot cars avoid rear-end collisions by “bouncing” its radar beam underneath the vehicle in front of it. It will also be able to work in rain, snow and dust — and should be accurate enough to stop a vehicle from colliding with a large animal, USA Today reported.

There are some caveats to using radar, however. For example, pedestrians appear slightly transparent on radar. Wood or painted plastic also appear translucent, and the systems could mistake metallic surfaces as being bigger than they actually are. But Musk said the new Autopilot software analyzes several data points to help the cars avoid false alarms — and that, over time, “fleet learning” could help the vehicles become even safer.

These upgrades come at a time when Tesla’s Autopilot feature is under scrutiny due to several recent crashes, including a May 7 accident in which Joshua Brown, a Model S driver, was killed when his car’s Autopilot feature failed to recognize a truck. Critics have said that Tesla rolled out the Autopilot too hastily, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating the feature since June, according to Fortune.

Musk, for his part, said that it is “very likely” that these new Autopilot upgrades could have prevented Brown’s death. But he cautioned that “perfect safety” is an impossible goal.

The updated Tesla software should be available within a week or two through an “over-the-air” update, the auto manufacturer said.

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