Tesla Autopilot Gets an Overnight Upgrade

This weekend I read about a new technology from Tesla called Autopilot. This technology is not a fully autonomous vehicle; it is more like an advanced cruise control. It is designed to assist in the act of driving, much like a pilot is assisted when he engages the autopilot once the plane is airborne and at cruising altitude. With this software upgrade, once your Tesla is on a well-marked roadway and cruising at the speed of the traffic, the Autopilot can be set and the driver monitors the trip just like a pilot does during a flight.

I am a huge fan of Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX. Mr. Musk is a futurist with great foresight and even greater engineering brilliance. He created a vehicle that can be improved by simply downloading upgrades from a remote website and not from the dealership service department. The Tesla Models “S” and “X” were given a download—“software 7.0”—that greatly enhanced the Autopilot features. Tesla remotely downloaded the software and the next morning, the Tesla owner woke up to a newly upgraded vehicle. Wow, that’s cool.

The article I read this weekend reminded me of a seminar given at the Auto Glass Week™ in Reno, Nev., this year. Mr. Richard Wallace, M.S., is the director of the Transportation Systems Analysis group within the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). He gave a wonderful futuristic vision of what may become of the automotive industry.

One of the things that struck me was his idea that we would not own our cars in the future. We would only pay for the right to use them for a period of time. Each vehicle’s systems would be stored on the “cloud” and carmakers would make adjustments and/or repairs remotely as it sits in the garage.

Why would we not own the car? Mr. Wallace suggested that modern-day vehicles carry millions and millions of lines of code and that those lines of code are owned by the carmakers and the code developers. Thus, they own the working systems in the car, you do not.

What does this mean for us in the automotive glass industry? I think that this is the future. All electronic systems and features will be adjusted and calibrated from the carmaker’s headquarters, no matter where it might be.

One plus for our industry is that automakers still can’t replace automotive glass remotely. However, making electronic adjustments and calibrations from the cloud can certainly present some interesting possibilities for keeping drivers safe and our vehicles up to date. Some might say that autonomous cars are going to be a detriment to our industry, and that remains to be seen. But, I think in the long run, technology will be our friend and not our enemy.