Tesla’s recent decision to open the beta version of Full Self Driving (FSD) to new owners has caused a sensation in both the automotive and consumer tech markets. This is an exciting time to be a Tesla owner. FSD is one of the most innovative software packages we’ve seen in an automobile. But it’s also misleading.
As I wrote earlier, Tesla’s Full Self Driving software is not a fully self-driving system. It only works in certain circumstances to perform certain driving-related tasks: it cannot safely perform an end-to-end traverse that involves navigating city streets, highways, and parking lots in unfamiliar territory.
FSD is beta software in the truest sense of the word. It’s an AI system powerful enough to demonstrate the core concepts and functional enough to make it desirable to consumers. Who doesn’t want to push a button and call their sports car from a parking lot like Batman?
However, you have to take the risk of your car damaging property or injuring people when using the FSD features – something that is counterintuitive for a consumer products market where death is often associated with mechanical failure.
Most insurance companies that cover vehicles with autonomous capabilities consider the driver guilty in the event of an accident, as almost all autonomous vehicle systems (including Tesla’s autopilot) require a human operator to be ready at all times when operating their vehicle in autonomous mode .
But FSD is different. It includes features such as conjuring that allow the vehicle to operate on standby without a driver. In addition, as a software add-on, it isn’t even recorded in the vehicle identification number you give your insurance company. This means that there is no real answer to who exactly is responsible if your Tesla is overwhelming for someone to rate themselves.
Of course, you can always take out insurance directly from Tesla. According to this website, the company offers “autonomous liability”. The point is, however: there are no current regulations that require people who own cars with autonomous capabilities to distinguish between hands-off systems and beta tests for hands-off systems.
The reason FSD is in beta is because it’s just not ready for the mainstream. Legally speaking, it would likely be catastrophic for Tesla to release FSD to all vehicle owners and accept liability for millions of self-driving cars. There is absolutely no reason to believe that FSD in its current iteration is ready for mainstream safe use.
In fact, on its own website, Tesla is very clear that FSD is not a finished product:
You are still responsible for your car and must monitor it and its surroundings at all times and be in your line of sight as it may not detect all obstacles. Be especially careful around fast moving people, bicycles, and cars.
FSD is a collection of really great ideas that have been implemented well. It’s a modern marvel of technology, and if you ask that humble tech writer, Teslas are the best cars on the planet. But they’re not completely self-driving, no matter what Elon Musk calls the software that supports their limited autonomous functions.
But no matter how stupid the product is called, the fact that it doesn’t work properly isn’t really Tesla’s fault. If the roads were kept in perfect condition and all the cars on them were driven with Tesla’s FSD / Autopilot system, it would be almost certain that millions of lives would be saved. Unfortunately, most of us won’t have these unless Musk plans to give every eligible driver a free Tesla.
And FSD is unwilling to deal with the unpredictable nature of pedestrians, human drivers, shabby cars with poorer safety standards falling apart in the streets, potholes, mattresses and other junk in the middle of the street, logs falling from large rigs and countless others Situations that are not easily understood by a computer that interprets data from a number of cameras in real time.
You shouldn’t be surprised to know that there isn’t one. That means we’re 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 think that making robotic cars drive cars will be much safer than putting people behind the wheel.
The technology is not suitable for Tesla’s inside-out approach with integrated hardware and cameras. Ultimately, we’re still talking about image recognition technology: something that can be fooled by a cloud, a handwritten note, or anything the algorithm doesn’t expect.
Other approaches, like Waymo’s Robotaxi tests in Arizona, rely on very specific circumstances to function properly. A million safe miles picking up and dropping off pedestrians between certain travel points at certain times of the day is not the same thing as recording time on the unpredictable streets of New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, or any other place where the computer is not trained .
Self-driving cars are already here. If you look at their skills piece by piece, they are incredibly useful. Lane changes, cruise control, and automated avoidance and braking of obstacles are quality of life improvements for drivers and, in some cases, literal lifesavers.
However, there is no such thing as a consumer-friendly, mainstream self-driving car, as these do not exist outside of prototypes and beta tests. And that’s because what we really need is infrastructure and policies to support autonomous vehicles.
In the US, for example, there is no consensus among federal, state, and local governments when it comes to driverless cars. One city may allow any type of system, others may only allow testing for the purpose of building vehicles capable of connecting to a city’s smart grid, and still others may not have policies or directly prohibit their use. It’s not just about creating a car that can park itself or enter and exit a freeway without falling.
Because of this, most experts – who do not currently market a vehicle as self-driving – agree that we are likely a decade or more away from an automaker selling an unrestricted model vehicle for consumer production without a steering wheel.
We’ll likely see Robotaxi companies like Waymo expand to more cities in the meantime, but don’t expect Tesla’s Full Self Driving to be out of beta anytime soon.
Published on March 8, 2021 – 21:33 UTC