Google believes it can have self-driving cars within five years, and that’s no problem. The company’s robot prototypes have safely driven nearly a million miles across California, and Google is gearing up for a massive self-driving car test. over the next year or two.

However, some Tesla owners may want to take a look at the self-driving features. a little earlier than that. Tesla has its own autonomous vehicle program and is making significant progress — so strong that Tesla wants to release some of these features in an over-the-air update this summer.

According to Tesla founder Elon Musk,

“We are very pleased with the progress we are making there. The main test route we are evaluating is the San Francisco to Seattle route and we are now almost able to go all the way from San Francisco to Seattle without the driver touching the controls at all.”

This is impressive, although I must emphasize that this is a much more modest achievement than you might think. The route from Seattle to San Francisco consists almost entirely of freeways, which are relatively easy. There are few surprises on the freeway—no stoplights, no ambiguous turns, and no pedestrians. Navigating the urban jungle is a much more difficult task, and Tesla has a long way to go before they can compete with Google’s autonomous car program «Autonomous Cars». there. There is a lot at stake: whoever gets there first will change the future of transportation.

Limited autonomy

Tesla seems to understand this and is stressing the limits of the planned upgrade. The update will provide a sort of intelligent cruise control that can be enabled on the freeway, allowing the car to stay in its lane and match speed with traffic. The car will switch back to manual mode as soon as you exit.

The company also plans to roll out a feature that will allow users to turn off their car to park, or call the car remotely from their phone, causing an empty car to turn on and find them. Musk notes that it is currently prohibited by law on public roads and should only be used in private parking lots.

Even with a limited set of current features, some legal analysts fear that Tesla may be crossing a regulatory line. Karl Brower, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, thinks the company is in a precarious position:

“There’s a reason other automakers haven’t gone there. It’s unclear at best. If you’re the person who starts doing this, you’d better hope things don’t go well. […] It’s not just a philosophical reason why automakers don’t let their vehicles drive them. There is also a legal reason.

However, Musk and Tesla never shied away from risk (or, for that matter, fell out with regulators). It’s possible that Tesla shares the sentiment of Google’s head of racing driver Chris Urmson, who in January said he believes autonomous cars are legal by default in the US and «there is no regulatory block.»

If nothing else, Tesla’s planned update will serve as a valuable experiment in the legal status of robot vehicles.

Great Experiment

Tesla’s self-driving research is still in its early stages, but the update is a step in the right direction. Its restrictions are reasonable and do not seem to create unsafe situations in which a distracted driver must suddenly take control of the vehicle.

It’s also deep sci-fi (summoning an empty car from your phone is ridiculously cool), and a great way to give users a taste of autonomous vehicles. will be like soon. It might even help soften public opinion about the idea and give Tesla a chance to show how safe and boring there may be two-ton autonomous robots.

It’s at least worth every one.

Own Tesla? Want a Tesla? Looking for an update? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image credit: Model S Via Tesla Motors

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