Tesla says its new software is so safe that even if a UFO were to land on the road in zero-visibility conditions, the car would hit the brakes.
The update to the self-driving function will rely on radar to give the cars a better sense of what is around them and when to brake.
Tesla’s Chief Executive Elon Musk said that it was “very likely” that the new version of Autopilot would have prevented the tragic death of Tesla owner Joshua Brown, but that the update “doesn’t mean perfect safety”.
Brown died earlier this year after his Model S hit the side of a truck while in Autopilot mode in the first known death involving a self-driving car.
Version 8.0 of Tesla’s software significantly changes the way Autopilot works, and relies more on radar imaging.
The system will combine the input from all radar sensors every tenth of a second to build a more reliable 3D picture of the world outside the car.
The company has said the software will use “more advanced signal processing” to construct a picture of its surroundings using the car’s on-board radar.
It’s thought the system will be better at identifying hazards in the road ahead, and even in front of the vehicle the Tesla is following in poor driving conditions.
Challenges have been overcome
Tesla says it faced a number of problems getting the new technology to work correctly. This is due to the way in which radar systems react to different shapes, objects and materials.
The company says even a “discarded soda can” could appear to be “a large and dangerous obstacle”, which might trigger the system to perform an emergency stop.
But if a number of Teslas detect a potential hazard but pass through safely, the system will log that location and radar signals as safe over time.
A spokeman said: “The net effect of this, combined with the fact that radar sees through most visual obscuration, is that the car should almost always hit the brakes correctly even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero visibility conditions.
They added the Tesla will be able to bounce the radar signal under a vehicle in front and still brake even when trailing a car that is opaque to both vision and radar.
“The car in front might hit the UFO in dense fog, but the Tesla will not, they said.”