After years of testing, Tesla is finally rolling out a software update (v2020.12.6) that will allow its cars to automatically stop at traffic lights. Called Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control, the feature is part of the company’s ambitious full-self-driving project and reportedly started rolling out last week in the US. The update, however, is only available to select models powered by Hardware 3, Tesla’s third-generation on-board computer that commandeers the company’s Autopilot self-driving technology.
In a note sent to eligible owners with Hardware 3-powered vehicles, Tesla said that the new feature can be used in conjunction with its Traffic Aware Cruise Control or Autosteer systems. According to the company, enabling the new feature will slow down the vehicle at all intersections, irrespective of whether the light is green, yellow or red. Drivers must pull the Autopilot stalk once or manually step on the accelerator to override the automated system and continue driving.
Tesla also says that the feature will be relatively conservative at first, resulting in frequent slowdowns and stoppages. “Over time, as we learn from the fleet, the feature will control more naturally”, said the release notes. The company also warned that “as with all Autopilot features, you must continue to pay attention and be ready to take immediate action, including braking because this feature may not stop for all traffic controls”.
The new feature is already raising safety concerns among watchdog groups and automation experts, some of whom are accusing Tesla of using their customers and other road users as guinea pigs to test out its new software. While some, like Jason Levine, the executive director of automotive watchdog group, Center for Auto Safety, accuse the company of using new features as stunts to gain more media attention and sell more cars, other, like Duke University robotics professor, Missy Cummings, fears that there might be more rear-endings at intersections because the cars will be stopping even at green lights.