(TNS) -- PALO ALTO – Continuing its aggressive push to put computers in the driver’s seat, Tesla is adding hardware to all of its new cars allowing them to eventually become fully autonomous.
CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday a new suite of equipment — eight cameras, better sensors, and a high-speed computer — will be installed in all new Tesla vehicles. The hardware gives the cars enhanced vision and 40 times the processing power of existing vehicles.
The foundation has been laid for new Teslas to become fully autonomous, Musk said. The timing of fully autonomous driving is “some time in the future” and dependent on public opinion and regulators’ judgment, he said.
The company’s push to speed up the transition to fully autonomous cars comes despite scrutiny from regulators of its self-driving Autopilot system. It’s been tied to fatal crashes in Florida and China. Consumer groups have also criticized the Palo Alto vehicle maker for overselling the system’s abilities and giving drivers a false sense of security.
The company’s stance is in stark contrast to Google, which has developed fully autonomous technology but has not released it publicly.
Alex Lloyd, an analyst and head of content for auto website Beepi, said that Tesla is moving quickly to bring the technology to a broader market and convince regulators about the safety benefits of self-driving cars.
“You need people like Elon Musk to be banging on the door,” Lloyd said.
In the auto world, he added, “more is going to happen in the next five years than in the last 50 years.”
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Musk said older vehicles will not be retrofitted. The new vehicles, including the Model 3 sedan due to be released next year, will have the enhanced equipment. Tesla will phase in software upgrades for the new vehicles over several months.
Tesla has made several upgrades to Autopilot since its release last year. In September, Tesla beamed out new software to the driver-assist package of the Model S and Model X. The company said the update improved the system, making it more reliant on radar to make decisions. Tesla also plans to draw more data from drivers to map hazards along roads and highways.
Kelley Blue Book analyst Michael Harley said Tesla’s new hardware is not a technological leap.
“The most critical piece of the puzzle, which is missing from Tesla’s announcement, is the car-to-car communication,” Harley said. The networking is critical to ensure even semi-autonomous driving is safe for passengers and pedestrians, he said.
The company will gradually upgrade fleet software to take advantage of the new cameras and sensors. Musk said the existing Teslas would still operate safely on Autopilot. Musk expects all of the improvements to make the vehicles safer than human drivers.
Musk added that the new cameras — three in front, two on the sides, and three in back — will provide 360-degree vision. They have also been tucked into the design to be hardly noticeable, he said.
Musk also hinted at a road trip next year — a fully autonomous drive from Los Angeles to Times Square in New York. Even the charging, he said, would be hands-free.
“I feel pretty good about this,” Musk said.
©2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.