Every vehicle Tesla sells has the potential to test future software without the driver even knowing it. Sterling Anderson runs the company’s Autopilot program, and he detailed how this clever functionality has kept the EV maker at the cutting edge of autonomous driving, according to the MIT Technology Review.
A common use of Tesla’s always-on Internet connection is sending over-the-air updates that improve vehicle functionality. However, the company’s models can also test software in the background using their sensor data without actually controlling the car. “We will often install an ‘inert’ feature on all our vehicles worldwide,” said Anderson, during a conference held by the MIT Technology Review. This system lets Tesla engineers see how an update would work for thousands of drivers before making the new capabilities operate in the real world.
Tesla also uses its vehicle’s sensors to collect reams of data about how drivers use their cars, and he thinks it’s instrumental to the company’s success. “The ability to pull high-resolution data from these vehicles and to update the vehicles over the air is a significant part of what’s allowed us in 18 months to go from very behind the curve to what is today one of the more advanced autonomous or semi-autonomous driving features,” Anderson said.
The company has already collected a staggering amount of data. In just the past year and a half, it accumulated 780 million miles of information, including 100 million miles from the system steering itself. According to Anderson, Tesla now gathers a million more miles from the sensors every 10 hours. With so much material about how people use their EVs, the brand's engineers have access to a huge database of real situations, which they can use to make the next software update even better.