The next version of Tesla Inc.’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) Autopilot software scheduled to be released in August includes “full self-driving features,” according to company CEO Elon Musk. Version 9 is the first full update of the software since version 8 was released in 2016.
The features will be “enabled” on Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot 2.0. That does not mean, however, that they will be able to drive themselves. The version 9 update will be pushed out over-the-air to Tesla owners.
Tesla offers a $5,000 option called Enhanced Autopilot for vehicles equipped with Autopilot 2.0 hardware. Musk has already promised a summer release of a new on-ramp/off-ramp feature for Enhanced Autopilot. Tesla owners also need to add an additional $3,000 package called Full Self-Driving Capability.
While Tesla is selling a full self-driving package, that does not mean that consumers will be able to use it immediately. The company clearly states the facts of life: “Self-Driving functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction.”
Musk announced (more or less) the Autopilot update in response to a tweet on the Tesla feed:
That issue is better in latest Autopilot software rolling out now & fully fixed in August update as part of our long-awaited Tesla Version 9. To date, Autopilot resources have rightly focused entirely on safety. With V9, we will begin to enable full self-driving features.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 10, 2018
The key words in Musk’s tweet are “begin to enable.” The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines a fully autonomous vehicle as one “capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions” with driver control optional. That level of autonomy may still be years away.
Tesla’s vehicles have been involved in several crashes this year and at least two people have died in those crashes. Musk complains about heavy press coverage of crashes involving Tesla vehicles, while more numerous fatal crashes happen every day. He is certainly correct, but a new technology, particularly one that can kill someone if used improperly or if the technology fails, should be scrutinized as thoroughly as possible before being turned loose on consumers who receive the sales pitch but who don’t have either the time or knowledge to weigh the technical details.