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Tesla Motors, Inc. Flexes Fleet Learning Technology and Over-The-Air Updates

By Daniel Sparks – Oct 15, 2015 at 11:30AM

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Tesla's auto steer may encapsulate this week's headline grabbers, but it's the electric-car maker's seamless rollout of over-the-air software updates that should be garnering the attention of investors.

Starting early this morning, Tesla (TSLA 0.91%) has started beaming new, major software updates to its fleet of electric vehicles. The update is the company's latest operating system, Tesla 7.0. Highlights in the new OS include changes to the user interface on the vehicle's 17-inch touch screen, and the addition of automatic steering, lane changing, and parking.

Tesla 7.0 update aims to show drivers the vehicle's perspective. Image source: Tesla Motors.

While the rollout of Tesla's automatic steering is probably the biggest game-changer for the driving experience, the real story for investors here is the way in which these substantial updates are coming to the vehicles. Tesla's over-the-air updates, paired with the deployment of a fleet learning technology for autopilot, demonstrate the company's prowess with software.

Tesla 7.0
With Tesla 7.0, Tesla has rolled out the world's first fully integrated autopilot system with four different means for system feedback: camera, radar, ultrasoncis, and GPS.

Tesla summed up the Model S' enhanced suite of autopilot features in a blog post this week.

Autopilot allows Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control. Digital control of motors, brakes, and steering helps avoid collisions from the front and sides, as well as preventing the car from wandering off the road. Your car can also scan for a parking space, alert you when one is available, and parallel park on command.

Autopilot, however, is not synonymous with autonomous driving, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was careful to emphasize during a conference call with press to discuss Tesla 7.0.

"We still think of it as a public beta," Musk said. 

Currently, this version of autopilot requires drivers to touch the wheel in some capacity. Though only a light touch is required. In future versions of autopilot, this will change, Musk explained during the call.

Tesla's advantage
The most impressive aspect of Tesla's autopilot rollout is how rapid and seamless these major updates are making it to its cars. The company's entire North American fleet of Model S and Model X vehicles will be equipped with Tesla 7.0 over a period of just five days. Even more, improvements to Tesla's autopilot will occur on a day-to-day basis.

Model S' 17-inch touch screen. Image source: Tesla Motors.

"We are deploying a fleet learning technology," Musk explained during the press conference.

Improvements to autopilot will not require over-the-air software updates with new versions of Tesla software. Instead, with a fleet learning technology, the autopilot system will improve with every mile driven. The improvements will be so substantial that Musk believes drivers will notice an improved experience each passing week.

This isn't the first time Tesla has showed off its software skills. One prominent display of the advantages of Tesla's software expertise occurred earlier this year. Just after a high-profile Jeep hack, which required drivers to manually connect a USB drive to their vehicles dashboard port to fix it, Tesla addressed a security hack to its Model S with a fleetwide over-the-air update immediately following the discovered problem.

Tesla's auto steer may encapsulate this week's headline grabbers, but it's the electric-car maker's seamless rollout of over-the-air software updates that should be garnering the attention of investors. As software continues to represent a larger portion of the value of a vehicle, Tesla handily leads the way. This is more evident than ever with the company's Tesla 7.0 update.

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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