Tesla updates its cars with trial autonomous features

Tesla has started rolling out over-the-air updates for its vehicles that enable “full self-driving” for eligible owners, albeit still in a beta form.

Owners who have purchased the option will now be able to use the Autopilot’s driver-assist features on roads outside of highways.

However, Tesla founder Elon Musk stressed on Twitter that the software is still just in beta and although it “addresses most known issues” there will still be “unknown issues” that will need to be unaccounted for.

“Safety is always a top priority at Tesla,” he added.

While Tesla vehicles do have a degree of automated capability, drivers are still legally obliged to be sitting in the driver’s seat with their hands on the wheel.

One of the firm’s vehicles was involved in a crash in April after losing control while trying to take a curve at high speed.

The incident in Texas killed both of the vehicle’s passengers. They were reportedly not in a position to quickly take control in the event of failure for the Autopilot.

As well as improved driverless functionality, the latest beta will offer drivers revamped visualisations that give them “additional surrounding information” and a better sense of what the car itself is seeing.

The latest software version has been in development for some time, with Musk having originally hoped to have rolled it out last year.

Rather than using expensive lidar hardware, the approach favoured by other driverless tech firms such as Google’s sister firm Waymo, Tesla’s Autopilot uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to see and sense the environment around the car.

Autopilot is considered to be a Level 2 'partially automated' system by the Society of Automotive Engineers’ standards.

Musk is also expected to take the stand today at a Delaware court to defend Tesla’s 2016 acquisition of SolarCity against a lawsuit by shareholders seeking to recoup the $2.6bn (£1.9bn) the company paid for the ailing solar panel maker.

The lawsuit by union pension funds and asset managers alleges that Musk himself strong-armed Tesla's board into buying SolarCity, just as it was about to run out of cash. He already owned a 22 per cent stake in the firm, which was founded by his cousins.

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