Tesla’s autonomy program, known as Full Self Driving, is about to miss another deadline. Expectations of FSD delivery are high, in large part thanks to Elon Musk’s self-imposed timelines.
The conversation right now is all about the latest software update (020.48.26) that delivers some nice UI changes, but mostly around a new feature called Boombox for those Tesla’s which have the external pedestrian speaker.
In just 4 days, we’ll reach the end of 2020, significant because another year has passed, without Tesla delivering on their FSD promises. To be fair, replacing a human driver with a computer is a monumental task, with many of us imagining a 5 to 10 year timeframe. Those predictions were radically recalibrated when Musk claimed they’d have the tech ready in 2018, then 2019 and now 2020 its still not here.
From the videos shared by those in the FSD beta program, we can see improvements in the car’s ability to navigate unmarked roads and turn on city streets, even accommodating roundabouts and parked cars. Despite this progress, the to-do-list remains long before this could be considered level 4 or 5 autonomy, according to SAE levels.
While nobody likes overpromising and under-delivering, the reason these promises are so important, is that thousands of Tesla owners have paid Tesla as much as $10,100 for the feature that still isn’t available.
Let’s take a second to reflect on the times Musk has set timelines for Tesla to deliver FSD.
When you purchase a Tesla, you’ll see a list of what the FSD package offers, with the ability to tick the box, pay some money (during purchase or after) and have the software features unlocked.
Last year the website listed under the heading ‘Coming later this year’, these 2 important items.
- Recognise and respond to traffic lights and stop signs.
- Automatic driving on city streets.
The first of these has now shipped (in 2020), however in some markets (Aus included), it is still necessary to confirm through a green light when there’s no follow vehicle.
The second of these still not delivered and the website has been updated to now list ‘Automatic driving on city streets’ under the heading of ‘Upcoming’.
April 23rd, 2019 – Tesla Autonomy Day
Back in April last year, Tesla held their Autonomy Day for investors, to explain the trajectory the company was on, to deliver FSD and ultimately a Robotaxi fleet.
During the presentation, Musk showed a slide titled ‘Master Plan’ that listed ‘Feature complete self-driving’ next to 2019. That didn’t happen. Next to 2020, the goal was to Enable Robotaxi (pending regulatory approval).
By now, Tesla clearly expected FSD to be feature complete and to have at approval for the cars to drive without humans, in some jurisdictions.
At the time, Musk also referenced a change to their leasing program which typically runs for 3 years. This meant that at the end of the lease period, the car would go back to Tesla and they would add the car to the Robotaxi fleet. At the end of 2020, we see no signs of this, as FSD is yet to be delivered.
April 12, 2020 – Twitter
Despite being well into the Covid-19 pandemic, Musk remained confident that they could deliver in the remaining 8 months of the year. Now that we are 8 months later, its clear things didn’t go to plan.
July 9th, 2020 – World Artificial Intelligence Conference
Close to 6 weeks after the last mention of FSD and Robotaxi timelines, Musk appeared remotely at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference 2020.
During the video, Musk again confirmed that he remained confident that Tesla would achieve the basic functionality for Level 5 autonomy by the end of the year.
Now we’re at the end of 2020, something has clearly not transpired in the way he imagined it would, and we will tick over another year without our cars driving themselves.
Achieving Level 5 includes the requirement of being able to drive under all conditions, that is, never require a human driver. As great as the progress shown in the FSD beta is, there’s no rational way to argue that has been achieved, even in the latest build.
While disengagements during drives are certainly decreasing, perhaps the biggest demonstration that we’re not at Level 5 autonomy, is the lack of ability to park itself. While Smart Summon can bring the car from a parked location, to you (with varying success), no Tesla can park itself without intervention.
The parking assist feature that Tesla has is really under-developed, requiring a very arbitrary vehicle in front and vehicle behind, to even be available. Once available, the driver still needs to tap to activate this, so at the end of 2020, we haven’t achieve Level 4 or 5 autonomy.
Despite the delays, I do believe Tesla’s computer vision approach to autonomy will deliver us the world’s first autonomous vehicle. One that owners could enrol their vehicles in the Tesla Robotaxi Network and derive revenue from their investment.
This may happen in 2021, in some areas of the world, but I’d expect we’re really talking about 2022 before this becomes a reality. This is definitely a place where Tesla and specifically Elon, could benefit from under promising and over delivering.