Electric vehicle maker Tesla released a long-awaited software update on Friday evening that will allow customers to request access to its controversial Full Self-Driving Beta (FSD Beta) software.
The move delighted the fans of CEO Elon Musk and Tesla, but risked the wrath of the federal vehicle safety authorities, who are already investigating the automaker for possible safety deficiencies in its driver assistance systems.
FSD Beta is an unfinished version of Tesla’s premium driver assistance software, FSD, which the company sells in the United States for $ 10,000 upfront or $ 199 per month.
FSD is marketed with the promise to enable a Tesla to automatically change lanes, navigate the freeway, drive into a parking space, or roll out of a parking space to drive a short distance at a slow pace without that someone is at the wheel.
FSD Beta gives motorists access to a yet-to-be-perfected feature, Autosteer on City Streets, which enables drivers to automatically navigate urban environments alongside other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and pets without moving the steering wheel with their own hands. However, the driver should remain vigilant with both hands on the wheel and be ready to take over driving at all times.
None of Tesla’s driver assistance systems – including the company’s standard autopilot package, the premium full self-driving option, or the FSD beta – makes Tesla autonomous.
The company previously made FSD Beta available to about 2,000 people, a mix of mostly employees and a few customers who are testing it on public roads even though the software has not been debugged.
The new download button could allegedly lead to a rapid expansion of the number of participants who are not trained inspectors.
Tesla boss Elon Musk visiting the construction site of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, 13 August 2021.
Patrick Pleul | Reuters
When CEO Musk announced new details on the FSD beta button last week, Jennifer Homendy, director of the National Transporation Safety Board, raised concerns about the company’s plans in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Homendy said, “Fundamental safety issues need to be addressed” before Tesla extends the FSD beta to other streets and areas of the city. The NTSB boss was also unhappy that the company, instead of using safety experts, was testing the unfinished product with untrained drivers on public roads.
Homendy also noted – and in interviews with Autonocast, an industry podcast, and the Washington Post – that Tesla’s use of the term full self-driving for a “Level 2” driver assistance system is misleading and confusing.
Musk himself said in a tweet last week that the FSD Beta now appears so good that it can give drivers the wrong idea that they don’t need to be careful about driving while FSD Beta is active, despite staying alert and on the ball should bike at all times.
On Saturday, after Tesla activated the “Request Full Beta” feature in its vehicles, a fan blog called Teslarati shared a post on Twitter with the question, “Does Tesla have a fair chance after the NTSB chief’s comments?”
Musk replied to them on Twitter with a link to Homendy’s Wikipedia biography. While Musk previously urged his tens of millions of followers on Twitter to change a description of his own career on Wikipedia, he shared this link to Homendy’s biography there without comment.
CNBC reached out to Tesla and the NTSB – neither were immediately available for comment on Saturday.
Musk has been promising Tesla owners an FSD beta download button for months. In March 2021, he wrote in a tweet that the upcoming button would give users access to the latest FSD beta build once their car is connected to WiFi.
However, he changed this approach. Now Tesla has a calculator that gives drivers a “safety rating” and determines who is allowed to receive and use the FSD beta software.
Screenshots that Tesla owners with FSD gave to CNBC show that the company’s “Safety Score” is comparable to an Insurance Risk Factor Score.
Tesla’s systems tabulate a driver: “Predicted collision frequency, forward collision warning per 1,000 miles, hard braking, aggressive turns, unsafe time after autopilot and forced autopilot deactivations,” according to correspondence and screenshots viewed by CNBC.
Tesla’s system currently doesn’t seem to measure and take into account how often drivers don’t keep their hands on the wheel, how fast they take over driving when prompted, or how consistently they keep an eye on the road.
Only users who, in Tesla’s opinion, have had a full week of excellent driving history can get access to the FSD beta.
Before Tesla released its FSD beta button (and the 10.1 version of FSD beta, which is also expected this weekend), CNBC asked California’s DMV Autonomous Vehicles Branch how widespread and safe FSD beta-equipped vehicles are so far State were in use.
The DMV declined an interview request but said in an email statement:
“Based on the information Tesla provided to the DMV, the feature does not make the vehicle an autonomous vehicle under California regulations. The DMV continues to collect information from Tesla about its beta release – including any enhancements to the program and functionality features of function change so that Tesla complies with the definition of an autonomous vehicle under California laws and regulations, Tesla must operate under the appropriate government approval. Regardless of the level of vehicle autonomy, the DMV has reminded Tesla that clear and effective communication should inform the driver about the capabilities, limitations and intended use of the technology. The DMV is reviewing the company’s use of the term “full self-driving” for its technology. Since it is still in progress, the DMV cannot discuss the review until it is completed. “