Tesla announced all vehicles it builds from now on – including the upcoming Model 3 – would have the hardware "needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver" thanks to a variety of upgrades.
Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250m of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the previous system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data on a redundant wavelength and is capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and the car ahead.
A new onboard computer with at least 40 times the computing power of the previous generation runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software.
"Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses," the automaker claimed.
Model S and Model X vehicles with the new hardware are now in production.
The automaker warned: "Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience. While this is occurring, Teslas with new hardware will temporarily lack certain features currently available on [models] with first-generation Autopilot hardware, including some standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding and active cruise control. As these features are robustly validated we will enable them over the air, together with a rapidly expanding set of entirely new features."
Edmunds.com executive director of industry analysis, Jessica Caldwell, said: "Tesla prides itself on being ahead of the technological curve and by installing hardware that will one day make all its vehicles fully autonomous, the company is keeping that legacy alive. The question now is how and when will this technology be implemented in the real world? It's like buying a 4K TV today. It might be cool to own one, but until networks start broadcasting regularly in 4K, it's just a vanity purchase.
"There's also a risk that by the time all these self-driving features are fully tested and activated, other manufacturers may be ready to roll out more advanced hardware with better capabilities. There's no doubt that Tesla has aggressively pushed and inspired more innovation than just about anyone else in the autonomous space, but the way technology cycles refresh so quickly, it is not far fetched to think that this hardware may be obsolete almost as soon as it's activated for primetime."