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Tesla activates second-gen Autopilot features, with a catch

Some cars may need adjustments, according to CEO Elon Musk, and the features err on the side of safety.

Tesla Autopilot Display

When Tesla started producing and delivering cars equipped with its second-generation Autopilot hardware, many common features were deactivated. That's finally changing -- but it'll be a slow process.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed via Twitter that Autopilot came online late last week for cars equipped with the second generation of Autopilot hardware. HW2, as Musk calls it, turns on additional cameras and sensors in anticipation of an eventual rollout of Level 5 autonomy, which is completely driverless.

HW2 applies to all cars produced on or after October 19, 2016.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Musk also urged caution, however. Some cars will need a camera angle adjustment, but owners will easily know if their cars require it, because the car won't complete a calibration and may throw an error.

As Autopilot becomes available to HW2-equippped Teslas, only certain features will be activated. This first phase includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and Autosteer, which helps keep the car in its lane. Per another Musk tweet, Autosteer will only activate below 45 mph, because it's "needed most" in heavy traffic.

One of the reasons for the low speed setting is likely safety. Tesla escaped the recent NHTSA investigation into Autopilot unscathed, and it was actually praised for the measures it took to improve driver awareness in the wake of the fatal accident that spurred the investigation. By preventing more drivers from letting Jesus take the wheel at higher speeds, Tesla can keep a close watch on the system's performance in a more controlled environment.

As time goes on, Tesla will collect more and more data about its system performance, at which point it will increase the speed limit on Autosteer. At that point, additional systems are likely to come online, as well. Tesla is using its own image-processing and machine-learning systems for HW2-equipped cars, so it's probably wise for it to take baby steps.