Tesla has begun to roll-out a beta version of its long-awaited Full Self-Driving Autopilot system, known as FSD beta.
Promised for years, the software is designed to take Tesla cars a step closer to full automation, where the driver no longer needs to keep their hands on the steering wheel, or concentrate on the road ahead.
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However, current regulation means drivers are still required to pay full attention, and retain full responsibility for their vehicle, whether Autopilot is engaged or not.
First, a quick explanation of what Full Self-Driving Capability is, according to Tesla. Autopilot, which is a free features of all current Tesla vehicles, keeps the car in the center of its lane, even when navigating corners, and a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.
Autopilot gains Full Self-Driving betaTesla
Full Self-Driving Capability is an $8,000 upgrade, available at the point or purchase or later via a software update, which promises to add many more features to Tesla vehicles. These features include the ability to take on and off ramps, and change lanes to overtake slower vehicles; the Tesla first suggests these manoeuvres, then performs them when the driver confirms by operating the turn signal.
FSD also includes automated parking in parallel and perpendicular spaces, assisted stops at traffic lights and stop signs, and Summon, which lets owners beckon their car to them across a parking lot, or other private land. All that said, Autopilot can struggle to function when road markings are faded or missing.
All of those FSD features were already available, at least in the US, with automatic steering on city streets listed as an "upcoming" feature. Now, with the slow roll-out of FSD beta, that is coming to a select group of owners.
At this point we should point out that Autopilot's abilities differ by country. What we have mentioned so far applies to the US, but elsewhere there are differences. For example, in the UK the FSD Autopilot upgrade can't yet react to traffic lights or stop signs, and has a more limited version of Summon.
Back to the US, and the upgrade to FSD currently costs $8,000. This price has increased gradually over the years, and Musk said today how it will go up again, to $10,000, on Monday, October 26. When challenged on Twitter he then agreed that the price for FSD in other countries will only increase when the features it brings are legal in that territory.
Musk previously said the roll-out of FSD beta will be "extremely slow and cautious, as it should," and with regard to a roll-out beyond the US he said it will happen "as soon as we complete testing and regulators approve. So many different traffic signs, rules and languages around the world, not to mention driving on the left side of road! Also a long and challenging road lies ahead getting to high 9's reliability (way beyond human)."
This slower approach is at odds to claims made by the Tesla CEO last year. Musk said in April 2019 how Tesla cars would form an autonomous taxi network by mid-2020, earning their owners money by operating as a taxi while they were at work, asleep, or on holiday. Such a system was first envisioned by Musk in 2016, but is yet to become a reality.
The new FSD beta should allow for Tesla cars to keep themselves in-lane on city streets, navigating more complex road layouts than found on the freeway, potentially including turning at intersections and managing traffic circles. For now though, it isn't entirely clear what new features the software will bring, despite its high (and increasing) price.
An image of a message shown to users of the FSD beta, posted on Twitter by an account called Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, is embedded below. It states: "Full Self-Driving is in early limited access Beta and must be used with additional caution. It may do the wrong thing at the worst time, so you must always keep your hands on the wheel and pay extra attention to the road. Do not become complacent."
The message goes on to explain that, with the new system engaged, the car will "make lane changes off highway, select forks to follow your navigation route, navigate around other vehicles and objects, and make left and right turns".
Drivers using the FSD beta are told to "be prepared to act immediately, especially around blind corners, crossing intesections, and in narrow driving situations."
Tesla says of the current Autopilot system: "The current enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions."
Musk said on a Tesla earnings call this week how the FSD beta roll-out was being approached "very cautiously" because the "world is a complex and messy place". The Tesla boss also explained how the Autopilot system has been updated to see its surroundings in 4D instead of 2D, which adds the dimension of time to 3D imaging.
So, while the FSD beta is slowly being made available to a select few Tesla drivers, we are still a while off from seeing these features on every vehicle with FDS enabled, and understanding exactly what the new capabilities will be. There's no news yet on when (or if) drivers will be able to pay any less attention than they do today.
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