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Image credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

Tesla will start enabling full self-driving features in August

Is it really ready to shift Autopilot's focus beyond safety?
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Reuters/Mike Blake

Tesla has been promising true self-driving features in its cars for the better part of two years, but there has been precious little to show for it. Now, though, you might get what you paid for. Elon Musk has revealed that Autopilot version 9 should arrive in August, and Tesla will "begin to enable" the full autonomous driving features with that release. The company has "rightly focused entirely on safety" with previous versions, Musk said, but now it's time to spread its wings.

This doesn't guarantee that your Tesla will be a self-driving car, so you may want to forego dreams of your Model 3 traveling coast-to-coast by itself. However, the "full self-driving capability" package should actually mean something once Autopilot 9 arrives and the more advanced features kick in. There may be some situations where it's genuinely acceptable to let go of the steering wheel, even if it's limited to parking lots and other private spaces.

There's a lingering question, though: is Tesla ready to move beyond safety-related updates? Crashes with Autopilot active are still making headlines, and it's not certain that the drivers are entirely to blame. While Autopilot 9 doesn't signal the end to safety-related features (it'll include a fix for merging lanes in rush hour traffic), there's a concern that Tesla hasn't fully addressed driver anxieties before moving on. The company settled the latest lawsuit over Autopilot safety in late May.

At the same time, introducing some true autonomy features might address some safety issues. Many complain that the Autopilot name exaggerates the cars' self-driving abilities, giving some drivers the false impression that it's safe to check their phone or even leave the driver's seat. This could help Tesla more closely match those expectations and reduce the chances of a collision due to neglect, even if the initial self-driving features might only apply to a narrow set of circumstances.

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