In the tiny gap between CES 2016 and the start of the 2016 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit tomorrow — both events which Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] has chosen not to exhibit at — the Californian automaker has announced the official release of its over-the-air software update 7.1 for all compatible Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X electric cars.
An incremental update to Tesla’s software version 7.0 — which first introduced semi-autonomous autopilot functionality to Tesla vehicles made after October 2014 — software update 7.1 adds some refinements to Tesla’s autopilot autosteer system, as well as bringing remote autonomous self-parking features to Tesla’s high-end electric cars for the first time.
As with all previous software updates for Tesla’s luxury electric cars, the 7.1 software update is offered free-of-charge to Model S and Model X owners, with autopilot features enabled on cars where the owners have either opted to enable autopilot at the point of purchase or via a one-time upgrade fee.
Speaking in an official press call earlier this morning (a recording of which you’ll find below) Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was enthusiastic about the new features, saying that they were the first “baby steps” to a future — a few years down the road — where it will be possible to summon a Tesla electric car from across the country and have it drive to you, no matter how far away it is.
According to the official Tesla system update 7.1 release notes, the update builds on the previous autopark functions found in system 7.0, adding what Tesla calls “Summon (Beta)” functionality. Designed to operate only on private land (something reiterated by an underlined sentence in its release notes), Tesla says the Summon feature will make it possible for the first time to park a Tesla Model S or Tesla Model X electric car remotely from outside the vehicle.
To activate it, owners can either use their car keyfob or the Tesla smartphone app, but we note the functionality will only work when the owner is within 33 feet of their car. As per Tesla’s official release notes:
To prepare to park your vehicle, align Model S within 33 feet of the final parking space so Model S can move straight into the space in either Drive or Reverse. With Model S in Park, stand within 10 feet of the vehicle and press and hold the center button on your key fob until the hazard lights flash continuously. While the hazard lights are flashing, press the frunk button once on the key fob to drive Model S forward into the parking space or the trunk button once on the key fob to back Model S into the parking space. Model S will move up to 33 feet or until the sensors detect an obstacle, at which point parking is considered completed and Autopark will shift the car to Park.
Repeat the process above to use Summon to exit a parking spot remotely.
The feature, Musk said, also works via the smartphone app, noting that the car will even activate a garage door opener as required to enter or exit a private garage as part of the maneuver.
While there are physical restrictions on just how far away a driver can be from their car at the present time, Musk said that restriction would soon be removed with subsequent updates.
“I actually think — and I might be slightly optimistic on this — I actually think that within two years you’ll be able to summon your car from across the country,” Musk said. “Let’s say you’re in New York and your car is in Los Angeles. It will find its way to you and meet you wherever your phone is. THe phone will just communicate with your car and tell it where to find you. It will automatically charge itself along the journey.”
“I might be optimistic about that but not too optimistic about that,”he said, calling the ‘baby step’ of autonomous parking “quite profound to experience.”
In addition to remote autopark, we note that Tesla software update 7.1 also adds perpendicular parking for the first time, allowing Tesla cars to automatically park in spaces that are at right-angles to the curb.
Alongside the autopark enhancements, Musk said that the Tesla’s 7.1 update also improves autosteer capabilities, adding improved traffic-aware cruise control enhancements as well as automatic speed adjustments designed to make highway exits and turns more comfortable by slowing down as the car approaches them.
When being used on single-lane roads, residential streets and roads with no solid median, Tesla’s autopilot will now limit the maximum speed the car can travel at to be no more than 5 mph (10kph) above posted limits, something which Musk hinted was one of the measures being implemented by Tesla to ensure that people used autopilot more responsibly.
Other incremental improvements found in the 7.1 update include an auto-open and auto-close system for garage doors, allowing drivers to automatically open and close their garage doors as their car enters and exits, vehicle lock improvements to allow both more selective door unlock behaviors but also to allow owners to unlock their car without ending a charging session. Auto-brightness is now also included to adjust the level of the Model S and Model X touchscreen display using built-in light sensors on both cars, while improvements to both Supercharger site availability and Trip Planner functionality to improve long-distance trips.
Audio muting is now possible from the steering wheel controls when Park Assistant view is available on the Instrument Panel, as well as improvements to the automatic windscreen wiper logic.
Discussing the rollout, Musk reiterated that Tesla’s ultimate goal for the Autopilot software is full autonomy, confirming that Tesla should have the hardware and software to make that possible within two years’ time. As part of that process, Musk confirmed that Tesla engineers are already working hard to implement a next-generation set of sensors and cameras for Tesla’s autopilot system, but did not detail when Tesla would bring those advanced sensors to market.
When asked about his thoughts on California’s new proposed legislation for autonomous drive vehicles and his thoughts on a Federally-mandated set of standards governing auto-pilot and advanced driving hardware, Musk was pragmatic.
“It would certainly make things difficult if all states adopted separate standards, or if there was a wide range of standards, so some consistency at the Federal level would be good, or at least for the states to coordinate their standards,” Musk said. “It’s going to get pretty weird if a car has to change its behavior when it crosses a state border.”
“California, from what I can see, has put the most thought into autonomous transport,” he continued. “But they do want to regulate it. For obvious reasons you don’t want robot cars misbehaving and doing crazy things. So I think that California just wants to make sure that there’s been adequate safety precautions before cars go [fully] autonomous.”
According to Tesla owners we know, the Tesla software 7.1 update has already been rolled out among a high number of cars, with those yet to receive the update due to do so in the next few days.
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