Elon Musk has just confirmed that in January 2023, Tesla vehicles will remove the requirement for the driver to place force on the wheel, commonly known as ‘the nag’, with some conditions.
Musk’s response confirming the change was in response to @WholeMarsBlog who asked if users with more than 10,000 miles of experience using their FSD Beta software (currently only available in US and Canada), could have the option to disable the steering wheel nag.
This is a really important change, as Tesla has relied on torque being applied to the wheel as a sign of driver attentiveness since Autopilot was introduced. You could drive somewhere between 15 and 45 seconds without input to the wheel, depending on speed, but then would be visually and audibly alerted to put your hands on the wheel. If you failed to do so, you’d end up in Autopilot jail and would need to stop the car before you could re-engage. If you have FSD Beta and didn’t engage, you could receive a strike and with 5 strikes you’d lose Beta.
There have been many discussions, particularly with Lex Fridman about the merits of driver monitoring over this technique and it seems Musk has finally come around to driver monitoring being an acceptable method of checking if the driver is watching the road.
While we have seen leaks from @GreenTheOnly that showed references in the code to driver attention, it’s not been leveraged outside FSD Beta strikes. It is possible that Tesla now feels their AI is good enough at detecting driver attention through computer vision to allow hands to finally come off the wheel.
There are some interesting questions that come as a result of this change. The first is, what about legacy Model S/X vehicles that don’t have internal cameras, I suspect they’ll be out of luck and will need to continue to use the wheel as an indicator.
If this really is hands-free driving or an option for it, then does this change the autonomous level of the vehicle and how will regulators see this? Technically a car with this enabled would be able to accelerate, brake, and steer all without driver input, once FSD Beta is engaged. While the driver will still be responsible for taking over when there is an issue, we’re getting awfully close to the line between level 3 and level 4 here.
The next question is in relation to non-FSD Beta users, like the rest of the world that has FSD Preview, but not beta, too would love to have this option, but ultimately need Beta in our locations to power this, so when is Beta shipping outside US/Canada?
Hands-free driving for Tesla owners is also very important in the autonomous landscape. With other solutions like BlueCruise from Ford, offering hands-free driving, some looked at this as Ford being in a leading position over Tesla. The problem with that is there are major location restrictions on where this hands-free option was available.
With Tesla’s implementation, hands-free driving is likely to be everywhere you can enable FSD beta, that’s all streets and highways, not just a subset, making it immediately clear, with one software update, that Tesla are massively in front of competitors like Ford.
If you have FSD Beta, leave a comment below and let us know if you’d enable this hands-free driving.