Tesla Goes Full “Level 5,” But What Exactly Does That Mean?


Tesla is becoming the Apple of the car industry.

Well, the Apple of five years ago, at least. We have to go back to when the tech giant routinely innovated with new hardware and then challenged the rest of the industry to catch up. (Apple’s recent diss of the audio jack doesn’t count.)

Tesla has almost singlehandedly made electric cars cool and has forced other automakers to invest in building luxurious and sleek electron-powered vehicles.

Wednesday night, Tesla made another bold move and announced that all of its cars, including its least expensive Model 3, will come capable of full, Level 5, self-driving autonomy.

Tesla made the announcement on its blog by saying,

Self-driving vehicles will play a crucial role in improving transportation safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future. Full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver, lower the financial cost of transportation for those who own a car and provide low-cost on-demand mobility for those who do not.

We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.

The NHTSA’s highest category of automation is “Level 4 Full Self-Driving Automation,” but numerous online stories list Tesla as promoting Level 5 autonomy, which the Society for Automotive Engineers defines as:

This stage simply means that the vehicle is fully autonomous and has no steering wheel or general controls for a human to use. The full details of these standards can be found in SAE Standard J3016.

We assume that all future Teslas will have steering wheels. Regardless, it’s not the label that’s important here. It’s the fact that these cars will have the capability of driving passengers around while they take a nap.

The technology won’t be fully enabled until the system is calibrated with data from millions of miles of real-world driving. All cars, however, will come with the ability to have the system turned on and become fully functional with a simple over-the-air software update.

Tesla’s announcement comes as a surprise, but likely won’t cause immediate change in the auto industry. Ford has already announced plans for a true Level 5 car—sans steering wheel—but it won’t hit the market until 2021. Other automakers (and tech companies, such as Google) have been hard at work developing fully automated cars, but Tesla just became the first to install a system on all production vehicles.

Car and Driver chimed in with one other major piece of information:

Musk hopes that, by the end of 2017, a Tesla will be able to drive itself from Los Angeles to New York, drop the “driver” in Times Square, and then go park itself in a garage. He says it will be accomplished “without the need for a single touch, including charging.” Which seems to suggest that the company has plans to roll out inductive Supercharging between Los Angeles and New York in the next twelve months.

Looks like it’s time for the rest of the industry to play catch-up.

Do you want your next new car to come with full self-driving capability?


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