Tesla is working on one of the hardest problems on the planet – autonomous driving. To create a future where cars are capable of driving themselves, there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome. Thanks to a dedicated group of early access participants (around 30), interventions combined with detailed reports of driving experiences have helped train Tesla’s AI to successfully navigate the amazingly complex environments that are our roads.
Arriving at a future where cars can drive themselves doesn’t happen easily. Tesla’s approach is to rapidly iterate their software stack to add capabilities to the car. With a solid base of Autopilot, the the focus changed to improve high-speed, long-duration drives with Navigate on Autopilot. Following that we seen efforts in the slower speed areas like Autopark and Smart Summon (still in beta). Finally we need to bridge the gap between these two environments with mid-speed driving through city streets, perhaps the hardest challenge of all.
After having the FSD Beta in the hands of a group of regular owners and allowing them to publish videos of their experiences on social media, the world has had a chance to see FSD capabilities and limitations. This is a work in progress. While there will be a time where the software is so good, you won’t need to pay attention, that day is not now and the driver is still absolutely responsible for the car.
During the Q4 earnings call, Elon Musk revealed that there weren’t just 20-30 people testing, in fact there was around 1,000. Most of these we expect to be employees or other members of the public under an non-disclosure agreement.
Tesla are clearly getting more confident with their FSD beta software, with the announcement this week that their group of testers has expanded to around 2,000.
The expansion of the FSD beta doesn’t end there, we know Musk is planning to expand it to as many as 10,000 owners in a matter of days. The specific timeline is a little unclear, as Must originally tied the expansion of the program to the 8.3 release of FSD beta, which is said to have as many as 1,000 fixes, which would seemingly qualify as a significant release.
Seeing the videos online of how FSD handles turns, roundabouts, give way or yield signs, navigates unmarked streets, double-parked cars and gets in the right lane for turning, you may be wondering why this isn’t rolled out to everyone who wants it, to get a taste of the future.
The answer is quite simple. This is beta software and it can and does do things differently than humans. Some things better, some things worse, but the big takeaway here is that you need to pay more attention, not less while driving FSD beta.
There’s a certain responsibility that comes with testing software like this, not only to your fellow road users, but to the greater mission of autonomy. There’s many that will try to use mistakes as evidence this can’t work, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Humans are responsible for the car and while we’re in this phase of training cars to drive like humans, we need to put in the work to find the edge cases Tesla’s software can’t accommodate for it and provide the data for it to learn. Tesla’s computer-vision based autonomy system is essentially a giant inference engine. It infers an object is a certain thing with a certain level of confidence and based on how confident, may make path planning decisions based on that.
What a ‘thing’ is depends on what the cameras and sensors around the vehicle see over a series of frames. We see from the FSD beta footage that the car represents objects and trajectories in different colours, helping to reassure drivers that the car sees and understand the environment around it. While this is far from the final UI, it is powerful in its colourful representations which have made considerable fidelity improvements since October.
Personally I have a Model 3, I have purchased FSD, I believe I’m a safe, attentive driver and would absolutely love the chance to use FSD beta. I’m on board with the added work that comes from this, not the reduced workload from Autopilot or even FSD preview. While Elon has said there will be a download FSD Beta button show up in the Service screen of the car, it’s likely the fine print on this means it won’t be available for right-hand drive markets like Australia, at least not initially.
That said, I am still hopeful as one of the key differences between between Tesla and the competitors, is that Tesla are going after a generalised autonomous solution that works across the world and to achieve that, you have to train the edge cases in every country. Watching the videos online, it has been eye opening to just how differently each society does road infrastructure, signage and what rules underpin that. Compared to what I’ve seen, Australia looks like a walk in the park, save for maybe hook turns.
As you consider if you want the FSD beta and if you would hit ‘The Button’ to download the software, you should be careful to not just watch your favourite YouTuber, but many. This diversification in information sources is a great policy in general as you consume news online, but the goal is to really get a cross section of experiences from different people, locations, circumstances, weather, lighting and more that really help you understand the current capabilities and limitations of the software.
The list below links to each of the FSD beta participants that have been authorised to share content publicly.
- AI DRIVR
- Aloha Tesla
- Chuck Cook
- Dave Maccaferri
- Dennis Pascual
- Dirty Tesla
- Earl – Frunkpuppy
- James Locke
- Kim Paquette
- Kristen – K10
- Nick Howard
- Sofiaan Fraval
- Tesla Raj
- TesLatino Español
- Tesla Trey
- Tesla Owners Silicon Valley
- Tesla Owners South Florida
- Vincent Yu
- Whole Mars Catalog
Thanks to TesLatino for compiling the list above.