There is much confusion about “feature complete” Full Self Driving, a Tesla-only product. Many think that is when Full Self Driving is available and you can take a nap while the car is driving. When you think about the features that have been released up until now, you will understand better.
First, there was plain Autopilot. It was an Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS), a cruise control system, and not even very sophisticated. Then it became slowly more sophisticated, keeping better distance from the vehicle before you, slowing to a crawl in a traffic jam and resuming smoothly, coming to a complete stop and starting to drive again, lane changes when ordered by the driver through the blinker signal, looking out for vehicles in the blind spot. All of that arrived up to what we have now: one of the most advanced cruise control systems available. (Okay, for the hardcore fanboys, the world’s über-best-unparalleled-awesome cruise control system.)
After the features noted above, Tesla rolled out Navigate on Autopilot, the combination of the cruise control system with the navigation system — but only on highways.
What many missed: the rain sensor. Other carmakers simply use a sensor for this function. Not so for Tesla — the FSD sensor suite should be able to detect when to deploy the windshield wipers, saving a few cents (times millions) for the rain sensor. The AI team calls the latest iteration “Deep Rain,” because a simple rule-based algorithm could not do the trick. It needed deep learning. How many years did it take for this feature to go from released to truly functional?
The evolution of the rain sensor is perhaps the best example of the difference between a feature released and a feature that just works and you can forget about it.
The features and their development are perhaps best compared to a driving education, a tough one in a very demanding state or country.
First you start in the parking lot or simulator with starting and stopping, making turns, and driving between pylons. Then the training grounds with mocked up streets, road signs, a roundabout, cardboard pedestrians, and traffic lights, but without other traffic and nothing to bump into.
What is next depends on your driving instructor. It could be navigating a parking lot, empty streets in the suburbs, or a highway at a very quiet time. Driving in the suburbs trains you in car handling and paying attention (I hope), the parking lot and highway are both about interaction with other drivers. And contrary to popular belief, the highway is the easiest driving environment.
Looking at the stages of a driver’s training this way, it is logical that Smart Summon was released before Smart Parking. Putting the car in a parking space is a lot harder than getting out of it. It also requires more complex interaction with the other occupants of the parking lot.
The last part of the driver’s training is learning to participate in traffic in an urban environment. This is where the sweat starts pouring for most driving students. At least it was for me. In the comments of my first article about Tesla Full Self Driving yesterday, there are some pictures of traffic situations 90% of drivers try to avoid. Tesla FSD has to learn to drive in those circumstances, too.
When Elon Musk talks about feature complete, it means that the FSD autonomous system has a training license (aka learner’s permit) for all normal traffic situations. It is only allowed into traffic with an experienced co-pilot who knows how and when to intervene. And that co-pilot is responsible for every mistake the AI makes. Just like your driving instructor was responsible for every accident you, as his/her student, caused.
When Tesla FSD is feature complete, it is the responsibility of half a million driving instructors to train the AI in the right way to drive. Judging by the speed of training for the rain sensor and cruise control, that will take some time. It will likely take a few years. Sure, Musk learned it faster, but he is kind of a genius. Tesla FSD will evolve at a more normal pace, not his, I am afraid.
How to get a driving license for an autonomous system is the topic of the next article.
Photos by Marika Shahan, Zach Shahan, and Kyle Field | CleanTechnica
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