Tesla is rolling out a software update to some of its newest cars that will allow them to see and respond to traffic lights and stop signs, a feature that CEO Elon Musk has teased for years.
The update is available only to owners of Tesla vehicles equipped with the third version of the onboard computer that powers Autopilot, which it refers to as “Hardware 3.” The company started installing this computer on all new vehicles last year (and offers upgrades to those with older vehicles), though owners also have to have paid for the “full self-driving” version of Autopilot to use the new “Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control” feature.
When activated, the feature will slow the car down to a stop for traffic lights and stop signs. The driver will have to pull down once on the Autopilot stalk or tap the accelerator pedal to continue through the intersection after that — even if the light is green. Tesla reiterates in the release notes that Autopilot still won’t perform turns, and says that the new feature “will not control for all intersections.” For example, it won’t work at railroad crossings or pedestrian crosswalks.
Tesla also stresses in the software update release notes that the Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control feature is in “beta,” and that it “may be conservative and slowdown often at first.”
“Over time, as we learn from the fleet, the feature will control more naturally. Performance may be degraded in difficult environments with pedestrians, rain, direct sunlight or when approaching traffic controls that are obstructed,” the company writes. Therefore, Tesla says drivers should pay close attention and “be ready to take immediate action at all times, including braking.”
Musk has long promised that Tesla vehicles will one day be able to drive themselves in all situations. But none of Tesla’s vehicles are currently capable of doing that, despite the company selling a “full self-driving” version of Autopilot. Instead, what owners really get when they pay for “full self-driving” is access to incremental features like Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control, or automatic lane changes, as they roll out, with the promise that one day the sum of those features will equal full autonomy.
Exactly when owners will realize that full value is a total guessing game, as are most things with Tesla when it comes to timelines. When Musk teased a development version of the Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control feature in 2018, for example, he said: “Your Tesla will soon be able to go from your garage at home to parking at work with no driver input at all.”