Autopilot Changes Could Boost Confidence in Tesla

Tesla's plan to upgrade the controversial Autopilot feature on its electric cars drew positive reviews Monday from some analysts, who say the changes will be better for safety and for the company's future.

The improvements, following the fatal crash of a driver using Autopilot this spring, were unveiled Sunday by Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk. The new Autopilot will rely primarily on radar -- and not just cameras -- to help the car "see" better and avoid collisions.

"This is something that needed to happen from Tesla," said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst with the automotive site Edmunds.com. "That accident had to be addressed."

The crash is being investigated by federal traffic safety regulators, and there have been other accidents involving Tesla's Autopilot feature, all of which have heightened scrutiny of semi-autonomous driving technology.

Palo Alto-based Tesla has always maintained that the technology is not foolproof and requires the driver to be prepared to take over at any time.

But Musk said the feature now would "make much more effective use of radar" to help guide Tesla's cars and would provide more safeguards to ensure drivers remain alert at the wheel when Autopilot is engaged.

The feature also includes cameras and sensors. The enhancements are expected to be rolled out within the next two weeks.

Caldwell said "radar is used quite widely in the auto industry," especially in the march toward self-driving cars, "but I would say not to the degree that Tesla is using it in their system."

The fatal crash occurred when a Tesla Model S driving on Autopilot in Florida in May slammed into a big rig after apparently failing to distinguish between the white truck and the bright sky behind it.

No car can provide perfect safety, but the enhancements mean Tesla's mainstay Model S sedan and Model X sport utility vehicle will be...

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