We tend to lose sight of the fact that Mother Tesla collects driving data from every car it has ever built mile by mile, hour by hour, and day by day. All of that information is used to improve the operation of the Autopilot system integrated into every car Tesla has manufactured since October, 2016. In its Q4 2017 letter to investors, Tesla indicated good things were coming for its Autopilot system, popularly known as AP2.
“The upcoming autonomous coast-to-coast drive will showcase a major leap forward for our self-driving technology. Additionally, an extensive overhaul of the underlying architecture of our software has now been completed, which has enabled a step-change improvement in the collection and analysis of data and fundamentally enhanced its machine learning capabilities. Our neural net, which expands as our customer fleet grows, is able to collect and analyze more high-quality data than ever before, enabling us to rollout a series of new Autopilot features in 2018 and beyond.”
In the earnings call with investors after that letter was published, Elon Musk gushed about the changes that were coming. “I am pretty excited about how much progress we’re making on the neural net front. And it’s a little — it’s also one of those things that’s kind of exponential where the progress doesn’t seem — it doesn’t seem like much progress, it doesn’t seem like much progress, and suddenly “Wow.” It will feel like well this is a lame driver, lame driver. Like okay, that’s a pretty good driver. Like ‘Holy Cow!’ This driver’s good. It’ll be like that.” Fortunately, Musk’s engineering skills are better than his command of English syntax.
Last week, Tesla rolled out the latest firmware via an over-the-air update. It bundles together everything its software engineers have learned since the last major update and Tesla owners are raving about how good it is. In essence, they are saying the car now behaves more smoothly with Autopilot engaged, making the driver more confident that it is going to work as advertised.
Lane changes are smoother, and the car follows curves in the road better. But the best news is that the system now handles difficult driving situations like snow and sleet more confidently than it did previously. Here are two videos that demonstrate the new found skills of AP2.