Tesla's Elon Musk unveils autopilot: Soon there 'won't be wheels or pedals'

Tesla makes handsfree driving a reality
Tesla makes handsfree driving a reality

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced a new autopilot feature Wednesday would be available this week for the company's Model S luxury sedan.

Autopilot will be introduced into the plug-in sedans through a software update, which will be available starting Thursday.

Using radar, ultrasonic sensors and tiny mounted cameras, the cars will be able to steer on a highway, change lanes and adjust their speed to the flow of traffic.

The Model S will also scan for a parking space and parallel park on command.

"Today's update increases the driver's confidence behind the wheel with features to help the car avoid hazards and reduce the driver's workload," a statement said.

The autosteer capability is still in beta, according to Musk.

"Because the software is still at an early stage, it's important people exercise caution," Musk said. "In the long term, drivers will not need to keep their hands on the wheel. Eventually there won't be wheels or pedals."

The instrument panel will feature a visualization of the road and will provide data to drivers. Drivers will also get side collision warnings.

The update that will roll out this week is only for vehicles in North America. Sedans in Europe and Asia are expected to get the update in about a week as Tesla waits for final regulatory approval.

Related: Tesla has delivered the first Model X SUVs

CNNMoney tested the autopilot feature on Wednesday while driving up Manhattan's crowded West Side Highway. The Model S kept to its lane nicely most of the time as the road twisted and turned along the Hudson River.

It changed lanes smoothly on its own, avoiding other cars when the turn signal was turned on.

When autopilot is engaged, a warning message tells drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. Occasional reminders pop up on the computer screen if the steering wheel is left untouched for too long.

There were a couple of scary moments during a roughly 45-minute test drive when we felt the need to grab the wheel as the car came close to other vehicles. However, we hadn't had our hands on the steering wheel, which Tesla would advise against. Had we been touching the steering wheel, there might have been additional feedback to reassure us that the car was taking appropriate action on its own.

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