Yesterday, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla made a big announcement, saying that the electric cars would introduce autonomous technology by this summer.
Using a software update the Tesla’s Model S sedans will be given the ability to start driving themselves, at least part of the time, in a hands-free mode that the company refers to as autopilot.
The announcement did not go well with some industry experts who said serious questions remain about whether such autonomous driving is actually legal.
Some cars on the road today from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and Honda that have the capability of driving themselves on the highway. But the automakers have taken steps to prevent actual autonomous driving in such cars, and instead require consumers to keep their hands on the wheel. A few seconds without touching the wheel, for example, and a warning is sounded; the cars then simply come to a stop.
Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com said that what Musk and Tesla were planning for this summer would be a revolutionary step.
“Working through the legalities and the legislation continues to be an issue,” she said. “I’m not certain how Tesla would get around that.”
Other automakers are in fast pursuit of similar self-driving features. Cadillac, for instance, said last year that it would make a supercruise feature, allowing hands-free highway driving, available in its 2017 model year cars.
Musk said Thursday that Tesla had been testing its autopilot on a route from San Francisco to Seattle, with company drivers letting the car navigate the West Coast largely unassisted.
After the software update this summer, the cars can also be summoned by the driver via smartphone and can park themselves in a garage or elsewhere, he said. That feature, though, will be allowed only on private property for now, he said.