Tesla Is Already Tracking Its Cars To Teach Them To Drive Themselves

By the end of the evening, Tesla will start remotely update all its customers’ cars with the first draft of its autonomous driving software. With that, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says they’re “less than three years” from a car than can drive us in our sleep.


That’s because Tesla is keeping a very close eye on the cars it’s already sold. Very close. The company posted this map of the San Francisco Bay Area in a presentation today as anonymously collected by Model Ss driving around on their daily business. It’s detailed down to the lines in some parking lots.

Tesla wants to know about every merge, yield, corner, and pothole to create what they simply call “high-precision maps.” The cars will need these if they’re going to be driving around on their own, after all.

As Musk explained in today’s presentation, standard GPS maps are fine for general navigation. “Go left at Main Street in 100 yards.” “Bear right on National Avenue in one mile.” But that’s not enough for a vehicle to execute complete control.


Here’s another visualization from Tesla of what they’re on about. The map on the left is what your lame-ass Garmin is looking at. The one on the right is what Tesla’s cars will need to drive themselves.


The cars will use these maps in congress with ultrasonic radar they already have, which can detect everything within a 16’ perimeter around it, plus a forward-facing camera and forward-facing radar that detects fast-moving objects ahead.

“It can see through fog, rain, snow, dust,” Musk explained. “It gives the car superhuman senses.”


This tech will follow highway lines and monitor other cars in traffic as well, but its connection to the hyper-sensitive GPS will be what gets it through particularly confusing intersections, unlined roads, and around erratic idiots on the road.

This forthcoming 7.1 software update will eventually take the car’s autonomy to the next level.


“Eventually, there won’t be pedals or [steering] wheels,” Musk said in a press conference today. He added that some some 60,000 cars in the Tesla fleet are already fitted with the sensor suite necessary for self-driving, and it wouldn’t be long before they’re technologically ready to drive you from your house to work “while you’re asleep” and do it safely.

And for their next party trick, Teslas will be able to drive in and out of your garage with a command from your phone. No, really.


The Tesla Software 7.0 update includes a host of safety features that will work of the car’s existing hardware to keep the car in lanes, switch lanes automatically, self-park, and alert you very precisely when you’re in danger of hitting something or being hit.

It even takes that to another level of advancement; When the car detects a solid object in close proximity to the side of the car, it will add resistance to the steering wheel if you’re edging too close.


While that’s what’s coming out tonight, and 7.1 is “coming soon,” Musk repeated the disclaimer that the current 7.0 system is very much in beta, meaning it’s not quite cooked yet. Drivers should not be taking their hands off the wheels of their Teslas at all for now.

When autonomy does become an option, activating it will be a one-time $2,500 upcharge. But if you get into an accident while your car’s brain is at the wheel, you’re still on the hook for liability.


“The hardware and software are not yet at the point where the driver can abdicate responsibility. That will happen at some point in the future, but not today,” Musk said.

While the technology might exist for Teslas to drive themselves before current high school freshmen graduate, the laws will undoubtedly lag behind.


Just the release of software 7.0 is at least another week out in Europe and Asia for this reason, and it’ll be interesting to see how the company deals with (or dictates) autonomous vehicle laws around the world.

Image via Tesla

Contact the author at andrew@jalopnik.com.

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