Tesla founder Elon Musk is convinced self-driving car technology will be ready within three years. In fact, the billionaire innovator believes driving yourself will become more of a hobby in the near future.
Tesla's Model S, one of the bestselling electric cars to come out in recent years, has recently had a significant software upgrade. Over the weekend, the newly-released 7.1 software was remotely installed using over-the-air technology, a method invented by Tesla.
The new software includes some major changes to the car's Autopilot system.
The biggest change was the addition of a feature known as "Summon." Activated using a smartphone app, the new function is still in beta testing and acts like a remote control for the vehicle.
The 7.1 update gives the Model S the ability to self-park both parallel and perpendicular to the curb as well as enter and exit a garage without a driver. However, a driver must be within 33 feet of the car while monitoring and maintaining movement. Additionally, the car can only be remotely driven on flat topography.
In addition to Summon, the update came with some added restrictions to the Autopilot Autosteer function. On residential roads without a center divider, Autosteer will only work within the posted speed limit plus 5 mph. Also, while in Autopilot mode, the system will automatically adapt to curves in the road and adjust the speed accordingly.
Musk referred to these new safety features as "reasonable." Previous improvements to the 7.1 software gave the car the ability to keep in a lane, adjust speed in response to other cars, and change lanes with ease.
Musk expects substantial enhancements to the Summon feature over the next few years.
"This is the first baby step - ultimately you'll be able to summon the car from New York if you're living in LA, and it will drive across the country, charge itself at the various locations and come to you."
Another forthcoming improvement will be the vehicle's ability to charge itself when needed.
In a recent interview with BBC News, Musk hinted that Apple may be working on its own self-driving car. According to him, Apple recently hired over 1,000 engineers to help them do it. Supposedly, many of these engineers may have come from Tesla.
While Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to dodge questions about Apple making a self-driving car, they do own some automobile-related internet domains, including apple.car and apple.auto. The company is also looking into a car testing facility in California.
While Apple could become a serious contender against Tesla, Musk sees it as a good move for the iPhone maker and an opportunity for the autonomous car industry to grow.
At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and this week's Detroit Motor Show, it has become apparent that sophisticated software and electric self-driving cars are pushing car makers into new territory. Musk believes electrification and autonomy will change the auto industry in big ways just as the assembly line did.
Musk says eventually people will not care what a car looks like as long as it can drive itself.
"Owning a car that is not self-driving in the long term will be like owning a horse - you would own it and use it for sentimental reasons but not for daily use."
As of now, Tesla only produces luxury cars and continues to operate in the red. Musk admits that unless the company starts making a more affordable car, Tesla will never get the traction needed to obtain profitability. A less expensive Model 3 version is slated to go into production at the end of 2017.
With the 7.1 software enhancements, including the introduction of Summon, Elon Musk intends to make human-driven cars a thing of the past. If the business magnate gets his way, a Tesla self-driving car will be less a novelty and more a standard mode of transportation.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]