Tesla Cars Can Use Autopilot Now, But Don't Hit Pedestrians Because It's Still Your Fault

Rihanna might have to add another verse about autopilot to her hit single "Shut Up and Drive." Drivers of Tesla cars can now use autopilot, thanks to a software update issued by the sexy, all-electric automaker Wednesday. The Model S and Model X are not fully self-driving, as CEO Elon Musk warned, but they will steer down the highway, change lanes, and pass slower vehicles. The chief executive warned drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times; if you don't, the system is supposed to beep. "It should not hit pedestrians, hopefully," he said at a press conference Wednesday. "It should handle them well." If it doesn't, though, the driver is liable for any accidents, so be careful!

Unlike Google's goal of a fully autonomous car, Tesla has said it wants to gradually implement features in a move towards complete hands-free driving. Musk said current engineering limitations keep the system relegated to the highway and parallel parking, but the cars constantly relay driving data to Tesla, which can then improve the service. The 60,000 models on the road relay information from forward-facing cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors for future upgrades. "The whole Tesla fleet operates as a network — when one car learns something, the whole fleet learns it," Musk said.

Musk reiterated several times that the system is still in beta. Snow or other inclement weather may cause the system to malfunction. Also, drivers outside North America will have to wait at least a week, maybe longer, until national regulatory agencies approve the upgrade. One small improvement that I'm sure everyone will start using right away is its self-parking feature. It not only parks for you, but also scans the area for a space that's big enough.

Nick Jaynes from Mashable tried the car in Palo Alto Wednesday, and said he enjoyed the experience. Are you annoyed being stuck behind a slow driver? He explained that in order to change lanes, he simply had to flip the turn signal, and the car did the rest. It switched lanes and sped up to the preselected cruising speed. Jalopnik also uploaded a great video that can give you a feel for what the ride is like.

Jalopnik on YouTube

The autopilot comes at a cost, though. To activate the system, users have to fork over $2,500. That seems like an awful lot, but it may be a good investment. Musk says he envisions fully self-driving cars within three years, assuming regulators approve the system. "The car will be able to take you from your driveway to work without touching anything — you could sleep the whole time very safely," he said.

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Other automakers, like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, are also working on self-driving cars. Google's test models have spent about two million miles on the road in California. And all the recorded accidents happened when a person was in charge of the controls. It looks like Musk's predictions are possible.

But sleeping the whole way to work? That sounds like a dream come true. What does that say about Musk's other predictions about the future? Maybe we really will be living on Mars soon.

Image: Tesla