Tesla unveils autopilot system

Newer Tesla Motors Model S sedans will be able to steer and park themselves under certain conditions starting Thursday (October 15), the carmaker said, although Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk cautioned that drivers should keep holding the steering wheel.

“We’re quite confident that within 3 years the car will be able to take you from point to point – from your driveway to work – without you touching anything. You could be asleep the whole time. And do so very safely,” Musk said at a news conference in Palo Alto on Wednesday (October 13).

New “autopilot” features, designed for cars built after September 2014, will be available for customers in the United States, Tesla said. European and Asian owners must wait another week. Tesla will provide the features through an over-the-air upgrade.

In more difficult navigating conditions, an audio alert will come on and if that also is ignored, the car will slow and eventually stop, Tesla said.

For drivers, “If there is an accident, the driver of the car is liable,” Musk said. “We’re very clearly saying this is not a case of abdicating responsibility.”

Instructions to owners say “autosteer is a hands-on feature. You must keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.”

Tesla, which this month unveiled its Model X SUV, has been the U.S. pioneer in luxury electric cars charged by batteries. Its expertise in software has made it a leader in self-driving features, which more traditional carmakers have been slower to develop.

While fully autonomous cars will be available in an estimated three years, regulatory approval could take years.

Musk said regulators would need data showing that self-driving cars work.

“I think the thing that would also be convincing to a regulator would be lots of data to see how autonomy is working, is this safer or less safe than a human driven car, and the point at which the data says statistically that it’s much safer to have autonomous cars, that’s the point which regulators also be comfortable allowing full autonomy,” Musk said.

Teslas already on the road will help the autopilot constantly improve and become more reliable. (Reuters)