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Tesla CEO vows Model S will drive hands free in 3 months

Katherine Ling, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tesla Motors’ Model S luxury sedan will be able to steer itself on highways after a software update in about three months, CEO Elon Musk said today.

Speaking in a media call, Musk said the update will also include automatic emergency braking and a warning if a car is coming into a driver’s blind spot, a feature he previously described as a “protective cocoon.”

Tesla today rolled out two new applications — TripPlanner and Range Assurance — that are meant to address “range anxiety,” the fear of running out of battery — a leading concern for owners of electric vehicles.
TripPlanner would navigate a route that considers the network of “superchargers” Tesla has built across the country for its customers. Range Assurance would warn the driver when the car is out of range of a charge station and point to the closest one.
The announcement of the self-steering software follows a comment by Musk earlier this week that human drivers may be outlawed.
Musk later clarified his comment in a Twitter post: “When self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter. Hopefully not.”
A future software upgrade for the Model S, he said today, will let Tesla owners summon or send home their cars — although such features are currently illegal in most U.S. cities and would thus need to be restricted for use on private property.
A technology package with autopilot adds about $4,250 to the $100,000 price of an upgraded Model S, The Wall Street Journal reported last fall.

Tesla is not the first luxury vehicle manufacturer to feature auto-drive.

Mercedes-Benz has for the past few years offered a technology package that includes traffic jam assistance, collision prevention, pedestrian and animal recognition, lane keeping, parking assistance, rear-crash monitoring, and a suspension that automatically adjusts for potholes and other bumps in the road.
Audi is developing an autopilot technology that would give drivers the option to allow the car to take the wheel in heavy traffic.
Nissan plans to roll out traffic jam assistance as well in 2016 and has already included auto-parking features in several of its models.
All of these features would still need drivers, of course, and Musk stressed that the Model S autopilot requires a driver who is paying attention and is not a self-driving car — although that is certainly a target Tesla is aiming for.
Google has been leading the self-driving consumer vehicle field, although car-sharing company Uber has hinted at its interest in that field, as well (Greenwire, Feb. 3).
Tesla’s electric cars may also soon find themselves in competition with other nontraditional automakers soon.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, today hinted at his interest on the sidelines of the all-electric Formula E race in Miami.
“We have teams of people working on electric cars,” Branson told Bloomberg Business. “So you never know — you may find Virgin competing with the Tesla in the car business as we do in the space business. We will see what happens.”
Apple is also rumored to be working on an electric vehicle that may be ready as early as 2020.
And Tesla? Musk said today, “Tesla is a software company as much as a hardware company. A huge part of what Tesla is, is a Silicon Valley software company.”
He added that the Model S was really a “sophisticated computer on wheels.”
Twitter: @lingkate6

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