With its always-on Internet connectivity, remote diagnostics capability and the very latest models sporting an array of sophisticated sensors and drive by wire tech, every Tesla Model S that rolls off the production line today has the capability to one day become a self-driving car via an over-the-air software update.
Indeed, as Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk promised in the recent Q1 2015 Tesla earnings call, basic ‘autopilot’ functionality, like automated overtaking, lane following, and valet parking will be enabled on all suitably equipped Model S cars later this year when Tesla pushes version 7.0 of the Tesla Model S operating system to all cars.
One self-driving Model S will live at Bosch’s German test centre in Abstatt. The other will live in Silicon Valley at Bosch’s dedicated autonomous vehicle test centre in Palo Alto.
But it isn’t just Tesla that’s using the luxury plug-in car to develop autonomous driving technology. As we explained last month, German electronics company and tier-one automotive supplier Bosch has been eyeing up the Model S for some time as the perfect test bed for it to develop its own self-driving solutions for mainstream automakers.
Today at its week-long annual International Automotive Press briefing in Boxberg, near Stuttgart in Germany, the company announced that it has purchased two identical Tesla Model S electric cars to bring that vision to reality. One will live at Bosch’s German test centre in Abstatt. The other will live in Silicon Valley at Bosch’s dedicated autonomous vehicle test centre in Palo Alto.
Starting with two standard Tesla Model S electric cars, Bosch engineers undertook a complete retrofit program to each vehicle, fitting some 50 new components and more than 1,300 metres of new cabling to turn each Tesla Model S into a Bosch prototype vehicle. To illustrate just how much work was entitled, Bosch filmed a timelapse video of the process, concentrating 1,400 hours of work into the 90-second YouTube video above.
The eagle-eyed viewer will note that the retrofitting process — to what looks like a regular Californian-plated light-grey Tesla Model S 85 — is pretty intensive, and involves the removal of many original-fit Tesla components with Bosch-designed hardware. In fact, as the time-lapse shows, the Bosch engineers strip down many of the standard Tesla parts during the retrofit process, including the massive 17-inch touch-screen display, braking system and bumpers.
We’re not sure if the car was originally fitted with Tesla’s autonomous hardware, but given the number of hours involved and the shots we can see of the car, we’re guessing it was made slightly before Tesla rolled out autonomous hardware as standard across its range.
With fifty new components and 400 cable ties holding all the cabling in place, Bosch hasn’t detailed the full component list, but has highlighted some of the most important components, including the Bosch SVC — a stereo video camera to help the car perceive depth which Bosch says is the smallest on the market — and its iBooster electromechanical brake booster system and ESP braking system.
While many will question why Bosch has taken a car that has already been designed with hardware and software for future autonomous drive functionality by its original manufacturer and retrofitted its own equipment, there’s one thing the Tesla Model S has that many other cars don’t: space.
Look at many autonomous drive car prototypes, and you’ll note the load bay area is packed to overflowing with high-tech computer equipment. Thanks to its clever design however, the Tesla model S has massive load carrying capabilities in the form of its front trunk (frunk) and its deep lower-level load bay in the rear.
This makes it possible to fit them both with computer hardware without compromising too much of the usual load carrying space found in an average sedan.
Moving forward, Bosch says that development on both cars will continue simultaneously in both California and Germany, helping it refine its autonomous driving hardware and software for commercialisation in the near future.
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