Why you shouldn’t expect Tesla’s ‘Full Self Driving’ to come out of beta any time soon

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Tesla’s recent decision to open its Full Self Driving (FSD) beta to new owners has created real success in the automotive and consumer tech markets. It’s an exciting time to own Tesla, FSD is one of the most innovative software we’ve seen in an automobile. But it is also misleading.

As I wrote before, Tesla’s Full Self Driving software is not a complete autonomous driving system. It only works in certain circumstances to perform specific driving-related tasks: it cannot safely complete an end-to-end crossing that requires it to navigate city streets, highways and parking lots in unknown territory.

Background

FSD is beta software in every sense of the word. It’s an AI system powerful enough to demonstrate basic concepts, and it’s functional enough to make it desirable for consumers. Who doesn’t want to push a button and call their sports car from a parking lot like Batman?

But you have to assume the risk of your car damaging property or injuring people when using its FSD features – which is counterintuitive for a consumer product market where death is usually associated with mechanical error.

Most insurance companies that cover vehicles with autonomous capabilities hold the driver responsible in the event of an accident, as almost all autonomous vehicle systems (including Tesla’s autopilot) require a human operator to be ready to take over at any time when driving his vehicle in autonomous mode. fashion.

But FSD is different. It includes features such as summons that allow the vehicle to operate without a standby driver. Moreover, as an add-on software, it is not even registered in the vehicle identification number that you give to your insurance. This means that there is no real answer as to who, exactly, is responsible if your Tesla directs someone on itself.

Of course, you can always purchase insurance directly from Tesla. According to this website, the company offers “independent liability” coverage. But the point is, there are no current regulations forcing people with cars with self-driving abilities to differentiate between practical systems and beta testing for practical systems.

The problem

The reason FSD is stuck in beta is because it just isn’t ready for the general public. From a legal standpoint, it would likely be catastrophic for Tesla to disclose FSD to all of its vehicle owners and take responsibility for millions of self-driving cars. There is absolutely no reason to believe that FSD, in its current version, is ready for general safe use.

In fact, Tesla is very clear on its own website that FSD is not a finished product:

You are still responsible for your car and should watch it and its surroundings at all times and be in your line of sight as it may not detect all obstacles. Pay special attention to fast moving people, bicycles and cars.

FSD is a mishmash of really great ideas well executed. It’s a modern technological marvel and, if you ask this humble tech writer, Teslas are the best cars on the planet. But they’re not fully self-contained, no matter what Elon Musk calls the software that powers their limited self-contained functionality.

But, stupid as the name of the product is, it isn’t really Tesla’s fault that it doesn’t perform well. If the roads were kept in pristine condition and all the cars on them were driven by Tesla’s FSD / Autopilot system, it is almost certain that millions of lives would be saved. Unfortunately, unless Musk plans to give every qualifying driver a free Tesla, most of us won’t get it.

And FSD is not ready to deal with the unpredictable nature of pedestrians, human drivers, more terrible cars with worse safety standards falling apart on the roads, potholes, mattresses and other trash in the city. middle of the road, logs falling from large platforms, and a myriad of other situations that are not easily understood by a computer interpreting data from multiple cameras in real time.

The solution?

You shouldn’t be surprised to know that there isn’t one. That is, we are already doing our best. Most automakers are heavily invested in driverless cars and it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of academics and experts all agree that letting robots drive cars will ultimately be much safer than putting humans behind the wheel.

The technology is not there for Tesla’s inside-out approach involving on-board hardware and cameras. At the end of the day, we’re still talking about image recognition technology: something that can be fooled by a cloud, a handwritten note, or pretty much anything the algorithm doesn’t expect.

And other approaches, such as Waymo’s robotaxi testing in Arizona, rely on a very specific set of circumstances to work properly. A million miles safely to pick up and drop off pedestrians between designated travel points, at specific times of the day, is not the same as recording the time on the extremely unpredictable streets of New York. York, Berlin, Hong Kong, or wherever the computer hasn’t trained.

Reality

Self-driving cars are already here. When you look at their piecemeal abilities, they are incredibly useful. Lane change, cruise control, and automated obstacle avoidance and braking are all improvements in driver quality of life and, in some cases, life savers.

But there is no such thing as a mainstream self-driving car that can be marketed to the consumer, as they don’t exist outside of prototypes and beta testing. And that’s because, in reality, we need infrastructure and policies to support autonomous vehicles.

In the United States, for example, there is no consensus among federal, state, and local governments when it comes to driverless cars. A city may allow any type of system, others may allow testing only for the purpose of building vehicles capable of connecting a city’s smart grid, and still others may have no policy or prohibit their use outright. It’s not just about creating a car that can park or enter and exit a freeway without crashing.

This is why most experts – who do not currently market a vehicle as an autonomous vehicle – tend to agree that we are probably a decade or more away from an automaker selling an unrestricted mainstream production model vehicle. without steering wheel.

In the meantime, we’ll likely see robotaxi companies like Waymo expand to more cities, but don’t expect Tesla’s full self-driving to come out of beta anytime soon.

Published March 8, 2021 – 21:33 UTC


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