It looks like self-driving cars are almost in our driveways, folks. Elon Musk has announced that the next operating system for Tesla Motors’ S Series sedan will have an autopilot feature.
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That means Tesla owners who download the autopilot upgrade will effectively have self-driving cars. The next version of the operating system could be available in about three months, making Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) the first manufacturer to start selling a truly autonomous or self-driving car to the public.
The autopilot feature will only be available in the Dual Motor Model S, which will have two motors. That enables the Dual Motor Model S to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just three minutes. It will also give the Dual Motor Model S all-wheel drive.
Teslas running on autopilot could be able to read signs, apply brakes automatically, and stay between the white lines (which is more than a lot of human drivers do). It remains to be seen whether insurance companies will give drivers a discount for having autopilot or using it, but it is probably coming in the near future.
Nor is Tesla the only company experimenting with autonomous vehicles; Audi and the auto parts manufacturer Delphi (NYSE: DLPH) have equipped an SQ5 with a self-driving system. The two companies have a so much faith in their system that they plan to send it on a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to New York. That’s a journey of about 3,500 mile.
News reports indicate that Delphi’s Audi will be able to navigate four-way stops, merge onto highways, and even steer clear of bicyclists. That makes it a lot smarter than many of the drivers on the road. There will be a driver in the car to take over the wheel in an emergency.
The cross-country trip is both a publicity stunt and a test. On the road trip, the Audi will be able to operate in a wide variety of conditions and on many different roads.
One test for it will be to operate on busy freeways and rural highways. Another will be to deal with rush hour traffic.
It looks like the next new car you buy will probably be autonomous. One has to wonder how the public will deal with this development and if people will accept these vehicles. It is also only a matter of time before other companies launch their own tests of such vehicles. Where, I wonder, are the self-driving Toyota and Ford? I imagine they’ll soon be on the road.