Tesla CEO Elon Musk has set a launch date on the next version of his company’s Autopilot software.
In a tweet on Friday, Musk said that he’s “hoping” the worldwide rollout of Autopilot 8.0 will begin on Wednesday, September 21. He cautioned, however, that the launch date could be pushed back if “last-minute issues” occur.
Autopilot 8.0 could arguably be one of the most critical Tesla (TSLA) has launched. Autopilot is the name given for the company’s assisted-driving technology. With Autopilot on, a Tesla vehicle is capable of driving on its own without driver intervention. The technology uses a combination of radars, sensors, and cameras, among other technologies, to steer through traffic, change lanes, and adjust speed based on traffic patterns. It can also park the car on its own.
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While the technology has been one of the chief selling points for Tesla’s Model S sedan, it’s also come under fire after a rash of crashes have occurred while drivers have been using Autopilot. Although Tesla has blamed many of those crashes on driver error, it’s done little to quell unrest about the technology and whether it should even be baked into the company’s cars.
Over the last several months, videos and details of crashes have been published online. In each case, those drivers say that they were using Autopilot, only to find that it didn’t respond the way it should and subsequently caused a crash. In one case over the summer, a driver said that the Autopilot actually sped up as it neared a car in front of it. Another said Autopilot was to blame for damage to the vehicle while the car was trying to park itself.
However, complaints about Autopilot reached a fever pitch this week after a Chinese man revealed that he’s suing Tesla. The man, Gao Jubin, said that the Autopilot feature built into the Tesla his son Gao Yaning was driving malfunctioned, causing a serious crash that killed his son. His attorney said it was the first involving Autopilot’s role in an accident. Tesla has responded saying it has “no way of knowing” if Autopilot was to blame because the car was damaged so badly.
Unfortunately, other fatalities have also occurred while passengers have been driving Tesla vehicles. In May, Joshua Brown, a Model S driver, was killed while using Autopilot. His car collided with a truck in Florida. In response to Brown’s death, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in June that it was launching an investigation into Tesla’s technology.
On Sunday, Musk said in an interview with journalists that the features in Tesla Autopilot 8.0, including new limits on hands-free driving and a heavier reliance on radar instead of cameras, “very likely” would have prevented Brown’s death. He added, however, that Autopilot 8.0 will not necessarily deliver “perfect safety.”
However, Tesla and Musk seem confident that the technology will improve Autopilot’s safety when it launches next week.
Tesla’s Autopilot 8.0 will be pushed to its vehicles via an over-the-air update.