The road to driverless vehicles

Tesla recently announced a software update for all existing Tesla Model S vehicles that installs several functions that pave the way for driverless cars. What is interesting is that the added autopilot features do not require any hardware modification of the vehicle (Tesla, 2015). To rephrase that, Tesla is adding new features to an existing product without charging their customers.

The features added in this update include:

  • Autosteer, which makes sure the car stays in its lane and maintains a proper distance between other cars
  • Auto Lane Change, which switches lanes after the driver has toggled the traffic indicator light
  • Automatic Emergency Steering and Side Collision Warning, which are features that are trigged in a worst case scenario when the system senses an upcoming crash coming
  • Autopark, which enables the car to park itself

Despite all these features being included in the package, American users will only be able to use the Autosteer feature. Not all features are legal to use in the US, therefore all other features mentioned will not be available for the drivers. Tesla has opted to not make the features available in suburban neighborhoods out of safety concerns. Interesting is that a paper by Benenson et al. (2008) has also identified urban environments as a difficulty for autonomously navigation vehicles.

While autonomous vehicles are no new phenomenon this is the first time that such a feature has been enable via a software update. Other companies that are investigating driverless vehicles, e.g. Uber for their taxi vehicles, Google for autonomous vehicles, and Apple in collaboration with other companies (Gilbert, 2015), plan to make dedicated vehicles for this function. With Tesla being a high profile company it will be interesting to see what the future looks like. This can be seen as a step in right direction, however legislation still remains a problem in many countries. With analysts predicting to see fleets of autonomous vehicles operate in developed nations by 2025 (Hars, 2014), it will not be long before we ourselves will make use of these vehicles. Can you see yourself operating in a driverless vehicle in the near future? To me the idea used to sound very futuristic, but with this move by Tesla I am seeing that moment approach quickly. Also, it remains unclear see how the European Union will respond to this innovation. As of right now we are in a period of transition and further developments will be interesting to watch.


Benenson, R., Petti, S., Fraichard, T., & Parent, M. (2008). Towards urban driverless vehicles. International Journal of Vehicle Autonomous Systems6(1-2), 4-23.

Gilbert, B. (2015). Uber’s CEO gave us a lot of clues about what the future looks like. Tech Insider. Retrieved 17 October 2015, from

Hars, A. (2014). Autonomous vehicle roadmap: 2015-2030 | Driverless car market watch. Retrieved 17 October 2015, from,. (2015). Updates | Tesla Motors. Retrieved 17 October 2015, from


One response to “The road to driverless vehicles”

  1. 437685la says :

    Interesting post! I have to say that I’m very intrigued by the fact that Tesla is just bringing this as a software update. It feels crazy to realize that software updates like this are not just a thing on smartphones or computers. It’s not just a regular patch, it actually adds new functionalities to the car. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of vehicles that drive autonomously. However, when you realize how long functionalities like cruise control have been around you start to wonder which functionalities will be as normal as cruise control in the future.

    I’m still a bit concerned by the fact that Tesla will not allow the functionalities to be used in suburban areas. I understand the decision, but it probably means that something is not quite safe as of yet.

    It is interesting to see that functionalities that seem futuristic like automatic parking are already so widely adopted in the car industry. Toyota, Ford, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Jeep and Chrysler, they all have some form of automatic parking systems developed. The first car to have an automatic parallel parking capability was the Toyota Prius in 2003. Another thing that is interesting is that this Prius was already a hybrid powered car! I was always under the impression that hybrid cars were a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon.

    I’m curious to see whether car companies will be able to make the full step towards driverless cars, as it seems that that is indeed the future. As of now it is mostly tech companies that are experimenting with them. I kind of hope that the classic car brands will be able to make the transition, as a car lover I don’t want to imagine seeing names like Honda being replaced by Google or Apple. Driverless cars will take away a lot of the fun too! Maybe manually driven cars will be a cult phenomenon in the future like old motorbikes, who knows…

    CNN (2015). – Toyota unveils car that parks itself – Sep. 1, 2003. Retrieved 18 October 2015, from
    Kane, S. (2011). 2012 Family Cars With Self-Parking Technology. The Car Connection. Retrieved 18 October 2015, from

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