Musk: Partial “Auto-Pilot” Autonomous Drive Features to be Included in Tesla Model ≡

The 2017 Tesla Model ≡ all-electric sedan promises an all-electric range in excess of 200 miles, Supercharging capability, and a price tag of around $35,000, making it the most affordable Tesla electric car yet.

The Tesla Model ≡ will come with some self-driving technology, says Tesla CEO Elon Musk

The Tesla Model ≡ will come with some self-driving technology, says Tesla CEO Elon Musk

It will also include advanced Tesla-developed autonomous driving technology that will make the car capable of at least some basic self-driving activities, or as Tesla prefers to call it, a form of partial ‘auto-pilot.’

That’s according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who told the Nikkei in an interview yesterday that Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] will develop and introduce elements of autonomous driving technology in its third-generation electric car.

“The overall system and software will be programmed by Tesla, but we will certainly use sensors and subcomponents from many companies,” Musk said.

Unlike Google and Nissan, Tesla has been reticent to promise fully-autonomous vehicles, saying that while it’s easy to make a car capable of driving 90 percent of trips on its own, the final ten percent is particularly difficult. Instead, Tesla’s Elon Musk likes to talk about “auto-pilot” capability: a car which still needs its driver to be present, conscious and ready to take over, but which can handle most of the trip on its own.

Think of it as an automotive equivalent of an airplane auto pilot. While most commercial planes can fly by themselves while in the air, humans are still on tap to take off and land, and step in should there be an emergency.

Tesla's focus on fully-connected cars and software-driven design makes it easy to add self-driving features (assuming cars have the appropriate hardware, of course)

Tesla’s focus on fully-connected cars and software-driven design makes it easy to add self-driving features (assuming cars have the appropriate hardware, of course)

It’s this auto-pilot capability — or part of it — which Musk says will feature in its $35,000 electric car. While Musk says a full auto-pilot system won’t feature in Tesla cars for the next five or six years, the Model ≡ will enable Tesla to get something of a head-start on the rest of the automotive industry by including partial autonomous technology when it launches in 2017.

“I think in the long term, all Tesla cars will have auto-pilot capability,” he said.

With a heavy focus on vehicular safety, moving towards semi or fully autonomous vehicle technology is a predictable move for Tesla. With wireless data connectivity built into every vehicle and an emphasis on software-driven, over-the-air updates rather than hard-coded discrete functionality, it’s even conceivable that a Tesla Model ≡ fitted with appropriate autonomous driving sensors could be gradually given more auto-pilot features as they are developed by Tesla, much in the same way that Tesla adds new user functionality to its Model S luxury sedan.

Are you excited by the news that the Model ≡ will have autonomous driving features? Does it make you more — or less — likely to want to buy one? And do you think Tesla will achieve a lead on the rest of the automotive as it hopes?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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