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If California’s freeways aren’t good enough for driverless cars, will they ever catch on in the U.S.?

Tesla owners take a ride in the new Tesla
Tesla owners take a ride in the new Tesla "D" model electric sedan.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Tesla owners are now one step closer than everyone else to having a self-driving car.

A software update was made available for owners of Tesla Model S and Model X owners that includes a new ‘autopilot’ mode, allowing the cars to adjust speeds according to traffic, change lanes, and even steer by itself. Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk announced the software release at a news conference yesterday afternoon, where he also lamented to reporters that road markings on certain parts of California freeways could pose problems to the autopilot software.

Musk showed reporters a stretch of the 405 Freeway near LAX that initially confused the system. This may have to do with the fact that it’s a stretch of road that has a seam between the lanes because it’s concrete. In addition, the lane markings are angled differently so the car struggled to identify the real lane.

California has been the stomping ground for U.S. tech companies who want in on the driverless-technology game, so Musk’s comments raise concerns about whether the lane markings are the only thing that could create problems for driverless software on U.S. roads.

Funding and plans for infrastructure improvements, especially the kind that would likely be required to improve California’s freeways to the quality required for self-driving software, are notoriously hard to secure,expensive to fund, and would take years to finish.

If California’s roads aren’t good enough for driverless cars, should we be concerned about other states as well? Does this mean that driverless cars can’t catch on in America? What other issues with infrastructure could pose problems to driverless software?

Quartz's Alice Truong took the new software for a spin yesterday. You can read about it here.


Alice Truong, senior Silicon Valley correspondent for the news site Quartz. 

Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at the technology analysis firm Gartner. His work focuses on predicting the future business and technology implications of automotive, connected/autonomous vehicles and mobility innovations