(Bloomberg) -- There was, in hindsight, a clear element of risk to Tesla Motors Inc.’s decision to install Autopilot hardware in every car coming off the production line since October 2014. It paid a price, with federal regulators probing the deadly crash of a Model S while in driver-assist mode and critics slamming Tesla for rolling the technology out too soon.

But there was also a reward. The company has collected more than 1.3 billion miles of data from Autopilot-equipped vehicles operating under diverse road and weather conditions around the world. And in the frantic race to roll out the first fully functional autonomous vehicle, that kind of mass, real-world intelligence can be invaluable. In that way, for now, the electric-car maker has a leg up on competitors including Google, General Motors Co. and Uber Technologies Inc.

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