Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) has announced that a software upgrade to its Autopilot system will be coming in the next two weeks. The upgrade will help the system improve the use of radar signals to guide Tesla vehicles along roadways. The upgrade also adds safeguards to keep drivers engaged at high speed. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk outlined the revision in a statement on Sunday.
With the new upgrade, warnings will sound if drivers take their hands off the wheel for more than a minute at speeds above 45 miles per hour with no vehicle ahead or if the driver’s hands are off the wheel for more than three minutes following another car at speeds above 45 mph. If drivers ignore three warnings within the span of an hour to keep their hands on the wheel, the Autopilot system will disengage. The vehicle must be stopped and restarted to reengage the system.
The changes are meant to make the Autopilot system even safer. The software updates will be delivered to vehicles over the air. Tesla vehicles built since October 2014 will all receive the software upgrade.
The Autopilot system was implicated in a fatal crash in May. The Florida crash, which killed driver Joshua Brown, was the first time a driver using the system had died. The car was driving under semi-autonomous control at the time of the crash. The car failed to brake automatically after the system failed to distinguish a truck’s white trailer from the bright sky. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the incident.
Mr. Musk said in his statement that the changes to the software might have prevented the accident. Tesla already warns users that the Autopilot technology doesn’t make Tesla vehicles autonomous. Drivers are supposed to remain ready to take control of the vehicle at all times. However, tests have shown that the technology sometimes leads users to rely too much on the vehicle’s driving capabilities.
Some Tesla drivers have admitted that using Autopilot may have lulled them into a false sense of security. The current system alerts drivers when their hands have been off the wheel too long, but according to data from the company, some users ignored 10 warnings to keep their hands on the wheel in the space of an hour. Advanced Autopilot users were most likely to ignore warnings to put their hands back on the wheel. Consumer Reports called Autopilot “too much autonomy too soon.”