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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on October 12th, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan

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Tesla Autopilot Updates & Notes from Elon Musk

October 12th, 2020 by  


A few days ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to provide some updates on the status of coming Tesla Autopilot and Full Self Driving updates. Well, actually, it’s not clear if he got on Twitter with the intention of sharing some news on this topic or if a few tweets just popped in front of him and stimulated the responses. In any case, though, we have some new tidbits to share.

First of all, in response to a thread from ARK Invest analyst Tasha Keeney about Waymo’s progress, Musk responded with some praise for Waymo, but they also indicating that its approach doesn’t match Tesla’s approach. “Waymo is impressive, but a highly specialized solution. The Tesla approach is a general solution. The latest build is capable of zero intervention drives. Will release limited beta in a few weeks,” he tweeted.

Someone, Ankit Gupta, then asked, “Why is Waymo a specialized solution? The more important thing in FSD is going to be decision making, which only depends on sensor input — which Waymo has. They do use ICE cars but migrating controls to other cars (EV) shouldn’t be a show stopper — I could be wrong.” Before Musk came back to the topic, another commenter, Frank Tinsley, provided this response: “It only works where they have high resolution maps and only so long as nothing changes to outdate or disagree with the maps. It’s fragile.”

Musk agreed with Tinsley’s response, writing, “Exactly. We barked up that tree for way too long (sigh). Gives a false sense of victory being close — a tantalizing local maximum — but reality is just too messy & weird. Our new system is capable of driving in locations we never seen even once.”

One of our writers with a deep history in robotics, Mike Barnard, wrote about these matters and his assessment of Tesla’s versus Waymo’s approach to self-driving vehicles in 2015. I reposted that piece in 2019. It is still relevant today and further explains the points in the discussion above, so I recommend reading it for more insight on this matter.

As you can see in that first tweet from Musk, he also updated us on the progress of an Autopilot/Full Self Driving (FSD) software update that many Tesla owners have been eagerly awaiting. He notes that a limited beta is due to come out in a few weeks. This follows a few other earlier statements that a limited beta release was a few weeks away. (See a timeline of previous statements related to this matter on the bottom of this piece.)

Update: Elon Musk has tweeted another update to the Tesla FSD rollout in response to this article. He states, “Limited FSD beta releasing on Tuesday next week, as promised. This will, at first, be limited to a small number of people who are expert & careful drivers.”

Regarding the challenge of getting this update rolled out to the whole Tesla fleet, we don’t really know specifically what the final holdups are — presumably, just a bunch of “little things” — but another tweet the other day spoke to the broad point: “Reality sure is complicated!”

Indeed.

Another topic briefly covered in Musk’s recent tweets is a metal snake charger Tesla shared a preview of several years ago (in 2015). Pranay Pathole asked, “*Hypothetically* will this new FSD update be able to drive/summon across states (given it’s all connected & not blocked by any borders)?” Musk responded, “Yeah, provided we do our metal gear snake autocoupler.” As extra clarification, someone who just goes by the name Zain on Twitter asked, “Will we ever see the automatic snake charger?” Musk succinctly responded, “Yes.”

So, yes, following the broad release of Tesla FSD software and increasing autonomy of Tesla vehicles, it looks like we will get automatic snake chargers at some Tesla sites (presumably, Tesla Supercharger locations).

Here’s a timeline of recent statements from Elon Musk about Tesla Autopilot and Full Self Driving:

  • July 2, on Twitter: “A lot of functionality will happen all at once when we transition to the new software stack. Most likely, it will be releasable in 2 to 4 months. Then it’s a question of what functionality is proven safe enough to enable for owners.”
  • July 22, during Tesla shareholder conference call: “I am very confident in Full Self Driving functionality being released by the end of the year. I am literally driving it.”
  • August 14, on Twitter: “The FSD improvement will come as a quantum leap, because it’s a fundamental architectural rewrite, not an incremental tweak. I drive the bleeding edge alpha build in my car personally. Almost at zero interventions between home & work. Limited public release in 6 to 10 weeks.”
  • September 12, on Twitter: “Releasing private beta in 2 to 4 weeks, public beta (early access owners who opt in) 4 to 6 weeks after that, then all US Tesla owners mid December. Above schedule is contingent upon not encountering major unexpected setbacks.”
  • September 22, during the annual Tesla Shareholder Meeting and Tesla Battery Day: “I think we’ll hopefully release a private beta of Autopilot, of the full self-driving version of Autopilot in, I think, a month or so, and then people will really understand just the magnitude of the change. It’s profound. So, yeah. Anyway, so, you’ll see it. It’s just like a hell of a step change, but because we had to rewrite everything — labeling software, just the entire code base — it took us quite a while. … I call it like 4D in the sense that it’s three dimensions plus time. It’s just taken us a while to rewrite everything. And, so, you’ll see what it’s like. It’s amazing. Yeah. It’s just clearly going to work.”
  • October 8, on Twitter: “Waymo is impressive, but a highly specialized solution. The Tesla approach is a general solution. The latest build is capable of zero intervention drives. Will release limited beta in a few weeks.”

Note that some of those statements refer generally to a transition to the new Tesla software stack, some refer to a limited private beta release of new Full Self Driving functionality, and some refer to a public rollout of new Full Self Driving functionality. However, without a doubt, in mid-August and mid-September, there was an expectation that there would be limited public release of the new Full Self Driving functionality by mid-October (now), and it seems to me the target for that is now the end of October (a slight delay based on reality being super complicated). Based on previous statements about these timelines, that also implies to me that a “private release” of the new functionality is happening this week.

We will update you as soon as we see evidence of the new Autopilot/Full Self Driving functionality reaching Tesla owners in the Early Access program or Tesla owners more broadly, or if we receive more updates from Elon Musk about the development of this software.

On different but related aspects of these topics, I also highly recommend reading these two articles:

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in NIO [NIO], Tesla [TSLA], and Xpeng [XPEV]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.



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