As of last week, all new Teslas include the hardware required for the cars to drive autonomously. That ability is likely years away, but the company wants its current cars to be able to drive themselves when the software is ready in 5-10 years. The company is even including the hardware in all the cars free of charge — though if you want to actually use it, it’ll cost you a good chunk of change: $8,000 if you pay for it up front, rising to as much as $10,000 if you decide to unlock it later.
The new “Enhanced Autopilot” — basically more advanced version of the current Autopilot system (well, it will be eventually, once Tesla finishes testing it) — is a $5,000 option on the Model X and the Model S at purchase, rising to $6,000 if you enable it after delivery. Tesla says it will be able to match the car’s speed to traffic conditions, automatically change lanes without driver input, drive from one freeway to another, and even exit the freeway when your destination is near.
Then there’s “Full Self-Driving Capability,” which will cost $3,000 at delivery or $4,000 later. It requires Enhanced Autopilot and will, according to Tesla, eventually allow the car to drive itself in all conditions. The car will be able to drive itself to your destination, wherever it is, determining the optimal route and handling everything from stop signs and traffic lights to roundabouts and streets without lane markings. Then it’ll be able to drop you off at your destination and go find a parking spot.
Sounds great, though experts disagree about when that sort of capability will actually be available to the public. Elon Musk says it should be available within two to three years, while many other experts think it’s more like 5 to 10 years off.
This sort of “pay to unlock” hardware feature is something that Tesla is quite fond of. It even gets an advantage by including the self-driving in all its cars because it will get more data out of “shadow mode,” which will be active on all cars, even those without Autopilot unlocked. In shadow mode, the car isn’t taking any self-driving action, but it registers when it would have taken action. Then, if the Tesla is in an accident, the company can see if the autonomous mode would have avoided the accident (or the other way around, with the self-driving system potentially causing an accident).
Tesla also says all this hardware will be available in the upcoming Model 3, but a company spokesperson declined to say what self-driving hardware would cost on that car.