Starting today, all Tesla vehicles produced at the company's Fremont, California factory will have the capacity for fully autonomous driving, though they won't exercise those capabilities until the company makes updates "over the air" to their software to permit them to do so. That's to say that all the hardware for self-driving will be in place in all new Tesla cars, but that software still needs work. For now, a computer will be run in the background while human drivers make their own choices and mistakes, learning from those and even comparing the decisions it might have made with them.

The carmaker's latest move was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and then revealed by Tesla itself in an official blog post. That included an explanation of the new hardware:

Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.

To process all the information, Tesla vehicles will be equipped with a new, 40 times more powerful onboard computer. Old Teslas won't be retrofitted with the new hardware, and the Chronicle adds that drivers must pay a one-time $3,000 payment to download self-driving software and a one-time $8,000 payment to turn on the hardware — cash that customers who paid $66,000 for Tesla's lowest end Model S are likely to have lying around.

Ever the showman, CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to tout the new self-driving features, which he hopes will be available by next year. At that point, the dream is to launch a cross-country Tesla road trip with a driver never touching the car's wheel.

The announcement appears to have been delayed by Musk in order to produce a snazzy video (with a free dose of the Rolling Stones).

Musk's steadfast, even single-minded pursuit of self-driving cars — a humble, earthly ambition compared to his SpaceX project to colonize Mars — has been met with some criticism and concern. That was highest after a death in May: A Tesla driver was killed while using the car's semi-self-driving "autopilot" feature when a semi-truck turned in front of him. The death lead Consumer Reports and others to call on Tesla to remove its autopilot feature, but instead, Musk announced last month that Tesla would tweak the feature, relying more on data from an onboard radar than it had previously. Musk even alleged that the new system would have been able to avoid the deadly crash. In fact, pitching its latest efforts today, Tesla writes that "this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses." That functionality, as Wired explains, is known in the biz as a mystical "Level 5" autonomy, in which a driver need do nothing to pilot the car. It's a level Google has been seeking since 2009 and has yet to achieve.

Ars Technica adds an interesting twist to all this: In a detail buried in the press release, Tesla writes "Please note also that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year." Sorry if you were planning to make your monthly car payments by having your Tesla go drive for Uber.

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