Elon Musk's 'Something Else' Is Autopilot System

Tesla Motor's website crashed last night as the world tried to get in on the live feed announcing two new developments at the electric car maker. Here's what we know this morning.

Published: 10-Oct-2014

Last night, Tesla Motor's web site crashed! Apparently it couldn't handle the traffic of people wanting to find out what the company was planning to announce during prime time on the U.S. West Coast. It's back up this morning, but not much more illuminating that the live Twitter feed The Street.com provided while covering the live event in Hawthorne, California.

Once Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, arrived -- fashionable late I gather from the Twitter feed -- we learned that the 'D' in his tweet a week ago is as was suspected: a new dual-drive system that incorporates both front and rear electric motors, effectively giving the car all-wheel drive (AWD). Previous Model S's offered only rear-wheel drive. Adding the second motor in the front should improve the car's handling with a better fore-and-aft weight distribution. It likely also will improve frontal zone crash survivability - not that anyone yet has been killed in a Model S despite being involved in some truly horrific accidents. The cars are that well engineered. Last year NHTSA gave it a five star crash rating.

Tesla Motors AWD illustration

The all-wheel drive option also should appeal to drivers in regions with snow-packed and icy roads, giving them better road-gripping capability. The AWD option will be available starting in February 2015, according to the website.

Musk's "and something else" tweet turns out to be Tesla's evolving Autopilot system. Again, there's not a lot of information available at this point other than it combines a forward looking camera, radar and 360 degree ultrasonic sensors, as illustrated by the screen captured image below.

Tesla Motors Autopilot illustration

From a vague caption on the company website, it sounds like the system isn't fully capable of automated driving just yet. To quote:

"Progressive software updates over time will enable sophisticated convenience and safety features that use these sensors to respond to real world conditions. These features will ultimately give Model S Autopilot capability on the highway from on-ramp to off-ramp."

In effect, what this sounds like is Tesla is going to use its customer's cars as its autopilot test fleet, collecting data from cars with the system installed and using it to gradually improve its reliability through a steady stream of software changes and upgrades. It's an interesting approach, if that's what is planned. I am not sure how the Feds or insurance companies will view it. Time will tell.

And what's all this exciting new technology going to cost? Sorry, but no pricing information was available at the time of publication, at least not that was obvious.

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