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Tesla cars gain self-driving sentience overnight

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With one over-the-air update Wednesday night, Tesla Motors has brought a new breed of self-driving car to American roads.

Tens of thousands of Tesla’s all-electric sedan, the Model S, bought in the U.S. over the last year have already started downloading or installing “Autopilot” mode, one of the first great breakthroughs for making the kind of driverless magic seen mostly in Google-car demos.

With “Autopilot,” the Tesla S can steer, change lanes and drive at highway speeds with little to no help from the human behind the wheel. It can parallel park, using its banks of cameras and sensors, and slow to a stop if the driver happens to drift asleep. In the next update, it may even be able to rouse itself from its parking space and pick the driver up.

It’s called “Autopilot” for a reason: Like airplane pilots with takeoffs and landings, the driver will still be expected to handle much of the subtle and strange ballet that is modern driving. The human will still have to keep her hands on the wheel every few seconds, as a safety measure, and to meet state laws that demand a hand on the wheel. No naps in the driver seat.

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