Today in the US, Tesla owners are receiving a new OTA software update for their cars.
Included in this update is not just a visualisation of the traffic lights and stop signs, but the car now responds accordingly. The feature is officially known as ‘Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control (beta)’.
What’s incredibly interesting about this is how Tesla have implemented the technology which is still in development.
While the Tesla can now understand where the intersection is, it seems their AI is not 100% confident enough to send you sailing through the intersection, even if the light is green.
Obviously, the potential threat here is that a miss-diagnosed green light could send the driver through an intersection, causing a massive accident. The other risk is that the car enters an intersection without properly accommodating for other drivers doing weird / illegal things like running red lights.
As the car approaches an intersection, it will prompt the driver to confirm that they want to proceed through it, by pulling down on the right stalk, or tapping the accelerator.
Here lies the biggest public test of Tesla AI.
While most other aspects of Tesla’s Autopilot are improving with each software release, this is a development item that has very clear and obvious results. With enough data, the car will be able to negotiate traffic light intersections automatically.
In the best case, the AI could ingest the millions of incoming signals from the Tesla fleet and improve confidence in the inference engine in a just a couple of weeks, worst case this would take a few months.
While Tesla never talks about their specific success criteria for FSD features, in this instance it’s likely to be close to 99% given the severe consequences of getting this wrong and understanding that human drivers are not even close to 100%.
Here’s a demonstration of the software in action, shared by the Third Row Tesla Podcast. While the car’s behaviour through the first couple of intersections look familiar (following the car ahead), it’s when the Tesla stops itself when first to the stop light that is the really impressive part.
When complete, this feature would mean it’s not possible for a Tesla to run a red light (when in Autopilot). This not only helps you avoid any fines, but also makes the car a whole lot safer. It’s technology like this that is certainly not yet accommodated for in our current safety rating standards.. 6 stars perhaps?
When it comes to stop signs, you must stop every time, so the default of slowing to a stop will work great, just accelerate away and Autopilot will stay engaged. Give way signs are currently not supported.
The car isn’t yet performing turns from an intersection, which also means Melbourne’s crazy hook turns are definitely not supported yet, but with time, enough data and the right AI training, the computer vision platform means the runway is there to make that a reality.
When Navigate on Autopilot was first introduced, drivers were asked to confirm the lane change, while later revisions enabled this to take place automatically. While pressure on the wheel is still required, with enough confidence the system is working correctly, it’s easy to see even this requirement is removed.
This latest software release really demonstrates Tesla’s lead over the rest of the industry with autonomous driving. While not complete, this is a substantial step forward in the goal of achieving Full Self Driving, something Musk says is still on track for the end of 2020.
The speed at which Telsa moves makes it one of the most interesting businesses to cover. While most other automakers, and even phone makers for that matter, have new announcements annually, Tesla has something new most weeks of the year and recently that’s increasing to an almost daily occurrence.
Tesla is a car company first, with just 4 vehicles in production, but another 3 on the way (4 if you count the ATV). Then you add on the technology and AI layer, as well as their efforts in solar and battery storage from consumer to grid-level and the scope of the company is growing rapidly.
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