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Rise of the RoboCar Part II: How Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA) is Transforming the Auto World

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)

Tesla Motors Inc has a car on the road that can drive itself. It’s not able to do so in all circumstances, nor can it be trusted to drive indefinitely, and after weeks of videos some people may be becoming blasé about the whole thing. The rise of the RoboCar is awesome, and those becoming jaded shouldn’t forget that through over-exposure. It’s transforming the auto world and Tesla Motors is at the heart of it all.

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)
Tesla Motors Inc Model S factory line

Back in June we we reported that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was excited about Tesla Motors’ progress. He said he would buy 500,000 cars from the firm if they could drive themselves. Tesla Motors is making baby steps toward closing that deal, but the firm is still a long way off.

Here’s what Tesla Motors has done so far

On October 14 Tesla Motors   began to update the Model S with software for Autopilot. The system allows, in the firm’s own words, the Model S to “steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control.”

The car can also scan for a parking space, tell you when it has found one and parallel park on command. Advanced collision detection and Autobrake make the Model S get out of the way of incoming traffic, and stop when it sees it’s going to hit something.

This all works best on the highway, and it’s much better where there’s clear road markings. In the city, though the system does work at times, it can actually be dangerous and Tesla Motors warns that use on urban streets isn’t what its software is for.

The Autopilot software in the Model S is a long way from perfect, but it’s still amazing. Here’s a look at some of the wonderful things it can do, direct from the driver’s seat.

A look at the Model S Autopilot in action.

Autobrake saves lives.

Going on a long drive with Autopilot.

Tesla Motors brings attention to the Robocar

Tesla Motors has captured the attention of the world with its Autopilot system. Though some forms of the tech have been in cars for quite a while, Tesla Motors’ brand power, and the firm’s following in the tech and business spheres, have brought the world of self-driving cars to more people than ever before.

That attention is going to be very important in driving research into RoboCar tech, not just at Tesla Motors, but across the industry. Most of the major auto makers are already working on cars that can drive themselves at some level, and many of them already have systems on the road that are close to what Tesla Motors can do with the Model S.

An increase in knowledge of these systems should, however, increase demand and drive the roll out of the tech, as well as the legislative structure under which it will work, at a faster pace. Elon Musk says that his mission isn’t to take over the auto world, it’s to change it completely.

Awareness of the power of EVs is higher than ever before because of the Model S. Awareness of self-driving cars will likely continue to improve as a result of Mr. Musk’s drive, and the attention he grabs in the media.

We’re still a very long way off the RoboCar

A Model S in 2015 isn’t the kind of thing that Mr. Kalanick was thinking about when he said he’d buy 500,000 Teslas. He wants a car that you can get into, enter a location, sit back and arrive. Tesla Motors  is still a long way away from a car that can really drive itself, but the firm is steadily headed in the right direction.

The hardware in the Tesla Motors Model S won’t be able to give that kind of capability, and fans will need a newer car if they want to give it directions and just sit back. There’s a schedule of classification from the NHTSA for self driving cars, and the Model S falls between Level 2 and Level 3.

Level 2 requires that “at least two controls can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping”. Level 3 specifies that “the driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a “sufficiently comfortable transition time” for the driver to do so.”

Tesla Motors is certainly at level 2 with its Autopilot tech, and it could be argued that the firm has made its way right up to Level 3 with Update 7.

Level 4 is, however, where people want Autopilot to go. It requires that “the vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.”

We’re still a very long way off that goal, but Tesla Motors has a head start on getting there.

Here’s how Tesla Motors will get to the future

Right now Autopilot is getting better and better. The car learns from all of those who drive it. Elon Musk says that each is an “expert trainer,” and he reckons that drivers will really see improvements on a monthly basis, though the tiny updates will come much more frequently.

For Tesla Motors getting to level 4 means first teaching the car how to get to level 3. In the next couple of years Tesla Motors will likely have a system that can, without interruption, drive on the highway. Driving in the city is a much tougher problem, and it’s going to require new hardware, like that used in Google’s cars, to achieve.

We don’t know what kind of self-driving the Model 3 will be able to do, but we know it will be better than what Tesla Motors has on the road right now. As the firm’s software learns, and it puts more advanced hardware inside the car, Autopilot can only get better from here.

Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley has burst Mr. Kalanick’s bubble a little bit, however. He reckons that instead of selling cars to Uber Mr. Musk will build its own system of dispersed mobility. That means hitting a button on an app and having a Tesla show up at your door ready to take you where you want to go.

It’s that system that makes him think Tesla Motors is worth much more than Wall Street values it at today. He has a price target of $450 on the firm’s shares. It looks like Uber’s loss will be the rest of the world’s gain. The rise of the RoboCar is in full swing, and Tesla Motors is leading the charge.

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