In Short: Let’s Stop Pissing & Moaning About What Feature-Complete Tesla Full Self-Driving Can’t Do and Start Talking About the Astonishing Things It Does Do
Many have criticized Tesla for putting what Tesla calls “feature-complete Full Self Driving” in the hands of customers instead of just professional testers. It is claimed that even the name is a misnomer because it won’t totally drive your car automatically.
There have also long been criticisms that Tesla uses the overall term “Autopilot” for driver-assist features. Airplane manufactures have been selling something called Autopilot going back to the time when it would only fly a plane straight and level at constant altitude. I was in the cockpit directing NASA research planes in the 1970s when the Autopilot used a million-dollar inertial navigation system (INS) that was developed for intercontinental ballistic missiles in the days before GPS. You could enter the waypoints and destination in latitude/longitude for your trip and the plane would fly from one waypoint to the next. A New York to London intercontinental 707 would use an INS like this and hope to arrive no more than ~5 miles off course. The Autopilot can’t take off, land, or maybe even change altitude routinely — even to this day. But no pilot or anyone else ever sued the airplane manufacturers for false advertising.
In a sense, Tesla has borrowed an aircraft industry practice of naming software that does useful and truly astonishing things but doesn’t live up to the literal meaning of the words.
Every Tesla comes with Autosteer and Smart Cruise Control underneath the “Autopilot” umbrella, and those who paid an extra $6,000 to $10,000 in recent years also got something called Full Self Driving. This software has done amazing things for me since I bought my Tesla Model 3 in October 2019. But it has also done some stupid stuff. Autosteer has at times picked the wrong lane when crossing intersections, Smart Cruise has been subject to “phantom braking,” and FSD has sometimes gotten cold feet halfway through an automatic lane change. Autosteer is a life saver which takes the stress out of long freeway trips, as does Smart Cruise as it holds your speed but adjusts it to match the speed of a slower moving car in front of you. FSD will navigate through complex city Interstate interchange systems flawlessly. I’ve also quickly learned when these systems fail and have safely intervened or turned them off when necessary.
Tesla is the first car company to put fully automated navigation in the hands of at least 12,000 of its regular customers. In principle, feature-complete FSD will drive your car automatically from your current location (in front of your driveway or the Walmart parking lot) to any location you pick in your NAV. It won’t back you out of your garage (I expect that soon) or pull you into a handicap parking spot. Feature-complete FSD is absolutely fabulous, except when it’s not. It will make some complex city and country driving trips without intervention. It will make many more with a few predictable interventions. I have obsessively used the software for about 60 days and 2500 miles without incident, so I know it can be can be done safely.
Since I purchased my Tesla Model 3 in October 21, 2019, Tesla has updated the software in my car probably 30 times. Sometimes it was only multimedia enhancements like the ability to stream Netflix or Disney+, enjoy Karaoke (which I love), or play games which I never play. But often it was adding additional features/improvements to the driving/automation. Some examples were: 1) The hold feature that makes total one-pedal driving possible, 2) automatic stopping at stop signs and stop lights, and 3) actually reading speed limit signs, displaying them on the screen, and adjusting your speed. 4) Tesla has also made many enhancements to the graphical display which are not as important, like visualizing traffic cones, trash cans, walking pedestrians, and stop lights — showing them change from green to yellow to red, etc.
From a Washington Post article on FSD and from the comments on my previous article about feature-complete FSD, I see a lot of pissing and moaning that feature-complete FSD won’t handle every driving situation perfectly. Perhaps that is justified because of the terminology Tesla uses. However, there are a lot of new things feature-complete FSD does perfectly and there are big improvements on some previous functions. I am tickled pink to be among the privileged few in the world to have this software and I will continue to enjoy the things it does so well and turn it off, prod it, and keep light pressure on the accelerator for the things it doesn’t do so well. I also expect to get progressively improved versions of the software every few weeks going forward. In coming articles, I will list the improvements over Autosteer, Smart Cruise, and ordinary FSD as well as the improvements between v10.5 and v10.8 of feature-complete FSD that I have observed.
In the nearly two months and 2500 miles that I’ve been incessantly using feature-complete FSD, I have had only one dangerous situation. The car braked hard for no apparent reason and a truck following close behind me had to brake hard as well. I will describe the phantom braking problem in detail later.
We loyal customers had to pay $6,000 to $10,000 extra for the privilege of not getting the software for years, but not having to pay more as the price rose. If you want it, don’t wait, because Tesla is about to raise the price to $12,000 on January 17, and more as the software improves. We also had to pass an often infuriating safety test to get the feature-complete FSD software. In my case, that took more than five weeks. Those who somehow scored 100 right away on the safety test, like my editor Zach Shahan, got version 10.2 of feature-complete FSD. By the time I worked my 96 score up to 99 over five weeks, those of us who scored 98 and above got software version 10.5. In my earlier article about v10.5, I gave a detailed list of those things I found to work amazingly well and those things that were marginal or even very bad.
On Christmas 2021, Tesla released v10.8 of feature-complete FSD. I have observed a few dramatic improvements and some marginal improvements. There was also a radical rewriting of the user interface for most Tesla owners.
To be continued in Part 2.
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