While Elon Musk Defends Mobileye, Bosch On Twitter, Reports of Next-Gen Autopilot Hardware Surface

Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] and its Autopilot system may be the subject of an in-depth investigation from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration following a fatal crash back in May in which the advanced driver assistance feature is suspected of failing to detect a tractor-trailer unit crossing its path, but that hasn’t swayed either Tesla CEO Elon Musk or its fans from ferociously defending Autopilot and its operation.

Musk: Direct complaints for Autopilot to Tesla, not our suppliers.

Musk: Direct complaints for Autopilot to Tesla, not our suppliers.

In fact, for the past few weeks, Musk, along with a large number of Tesla faithful, have been rejecting calls from some media outlets and industry experts to disable or further restrict Autopilot use to ensure that customers cannot misuse or abuse the system. Their defence? That Tesla’s Autopilot system has prevented tens of thousands of accidents already, instructions for its correct operation are regularly reiterated by Tesla to its customers, and that so far, its operation has been statistically far safer than cars being driven manually.

And now, as Musk revealed over the weekend, Tesla is readying itself to make some major improvements to Autopilot by introducing next-generation hardware into its cars as well as pushing an over-the-air software update that will dramatically improve vehicle capabilities. What’s more, in typical Tesla fashion, it appears that the automaker may already be building cars at its Fremont facility featuring not one but two forward-facing cameras, hinting that the switch over to next-generation Autopilot technology may be happening in the very near future.

The statistics suggest Tesla's Autopilot is safe. Not everyone agrees.

The statistics suggest Tesla’s Autopilot is safe. Not everyone agrees.

Taking to his favorite social media network Twitter over the weekend, Musk made a series of tweets in which he discussed planned improvements to the Tesla Autopilot system. Noting that he had just finished a call with German electronics specialist and tier-one automotive parts supplier Bosch, Musk said that he believed Tesla’s Autopilot system could receive a major update designed to enhance the operation of the Bosch-made radar sensor used in Tesla cars.

“Promising call today with @BoschGlobal, maker of our radar sensor,” he tweeted.”Looks like significant improvements possible via OTA software update.”

Following on from his initial tweet, Musk reiterated that Tesla was happy with the work that both Bosch and MobilEye — an Israeli firm which specializes in computer vision and autonomous vehicle hardware — have put in on Tesla’s Autopilot hardware. Not responding to anyone in particular, Musk called for any criticism for Autopilot to be directed at Tesla directly, not its suppliers or partner companies.

It’s not clear why Musk made that second tweet, but it’s worth mentioning that last week in the Automotive EETimes, contributor Christoph Hammerschmidt opined that Tesla Went Too Fast, Too Far in its development of the Autopilot system, claiming that Mobileye, Tesla’s video specialist for Autopilot hardware, had warned Tesla that its software was not yet capable of detecting cross traffic in front of the vehicle.

Mobileye, it claimed, had told Tesla such a feature would not be available until 2018.

Updated hardware is on the way...

Updated hardware is on the way…

While we’ve not been able to verify or refute that claim, we note that the timing of Musk’s Tweet suggests that the Tesla CEO is keen for any fallout surrounding the May fatal crash to not reflect badly on any of its partner companies. Given Musk seems confident in Autopilot technology and (we’d guess) hopes for blame to not be laid at Tesla’s feet, his Tweet should help smooth things out for both Bosch and Mobileye until NHTSA’s official accident report is published.

But it’s not just Musk’s twitter stream hinting at a new over-the-air update for improved autopilot. Over the weekend, we heard the news that new Tesla Model X owners are reporting their cars are arriving from the factory with not one but two front-facing cameras. Earliest Model X examples and Tesla Model S cars with autopilot hardware shipped with just one camera located behind the rear-view mirror, but now it appears Tesla has switched to a dual-camera setup. Not only should this improve image recognition capabilities of any hardware-equipped car, but the two cameras — located side by side — could be used for stereoscopic image detection, making it easier for the car’s on-board computer to more accurately judge the distance of objects ahead.

And that, in plain english, means a more advanced and safer Autopilot system is on the way. Given the increased pressure on Tesla’s Autopilot system of late, we think that’s a very good thing indeed.



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