Tesla Full Self Driving (Supervised) V12.3.4: City/Cross-Country/Rural — Impressive, But Not Perfect

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I’m a techno-nerd who’s been following the progression of driving automation with rapt interest from its small beginnings in 2016. My brother couldn’t take delivery on his Tesla Model S in Wisconsin back then, so on March 30, 2017, he picked it up at the Salt Lake City Delivery Center near me. He paid $6,000 for the driving automation that Tesla offered at the time. However, the complete “Full Self Driving” suite wasn’t available back then.

First, his car had to calibrate its cameras for a few hundred miles. Then, we went out to give it a test run. Smart Cruise and Steering Assist were delivered, but what blew me away was that he could push the turn signal stalk down and his car would automatically check for obstructions and then change lanes.

In 2018, I took delivery on a Nissan Leaf which had Smart Cruise and Lane Keeping Assist. It did great on the freeways, but the minute the turn was too tight, it would break loose. Also, the Smart Cruise wouldn’t activate until you were going over ~25 mph.

Where Do We Stand with Tesla’s Full Self Driving (Supervised) Today?

Figure 1: Full Self Driving (Supervised) screen. Photo from Fritz Hasler.

Here are my observations after two months with Full Self Driving (Supervised). The following is what my car will do now with Full Self Driving (Supervised) V12 and how it performs. (Note that in the last versions of V11, it would fail some of these tests.)

  • It feels like riding with a smooth expert human driver most of the time.
  • You can enter any address into your navigation and FSD will drive your car from your driveway to that address totally automatically in typical low traffic here in Northern Wisconsin. You only occasionally need to touch the accelerator if there is an impatient person behind you.
  • It will stay smooth as silk in the center of your lane, like you are guided by railroad tracks on the road or street, slowing down automatically for the sharpest turns and smoothly taking them. It will even handle rotaries/roundabouts perfectly.
  • Smart Cruise follows the car in front of you perfectly, including inching ahead automatically a bit at a time in mostly stopped traffic.
  • It will stop automatically at the correct place at stop signs, assess the situation, inch forward, and then proceed briskly straight ahead or turn briskly when it is safe to do so.
  • It will observe traffic lights, including turn signals, and stop, proceed, or turn properly keeping accurately in the correct turn lane.
  • It will observe speed limit signs, slowing down legally when you come into a town or city and speeding up again as you leave.
  • It will slow down correctly for speed bumps and big dips in the road and speed up afterward.
  • It will move to the left just the right amount when coming upon a pedestrian, bicycle, vehicle, or object extending into your lane.
  • It will move to the right just the correct amount when passing oncoming traffic on a narrow road.
  • It responds perfectly to construction barrels, including moving you to the right when the left lane is closed.
  • On a freeway, it will anticipate a slower moving vehicle in front of you well ahead and pull out to pass.

What issues does it still have?

  • It’s slower than a human driver at stop signs. No problem if you are patient, but if you are in hurry or have an impatient driver behind you, it’s just too slow. You can solve this with a little pressure on the accelerator at the right moment.
  • Even though it will save you from a ticket entering a metropolitan area, it doesn’t detect or slow down for flashing 20 mph school zone signs.
  • Turning to the right at an intersection, it will often turn into a shoulder lane on the right, sometimes even putting a wheel on the gravel instead of finding the proper lane.
  • On a freeway, after pulling out to pass, it will seldom return to the right-hand lane.
  • At an intersection with a busy highway, you probably won’t be happy with its ability to find a gap in the traffic in order to turn or proceed straight ahead. You can help it by pressing the accelerator when you see a big enough gap to proceed. Note: It’s difficult to see how this problem can be addressed in the future. Manually: When faced with really heavy traffic, I might turn right, slip to the left and make a U-turn. Perhaps Tesla could implement this trick.
  • FSD (Supervised) won’t do U-turns.
  • You can set a 5 mph or 10 mph higher offset, but FSD Supervised does some kind of safety check and it won’t always give you the offset you have specified.

The Biggie: This is not Level 4 automation. While failure is quite predictable, you need to be prepared to intervene instantaneously at any moment. This is not going to work for a car with no steering wheel and no driver.

I see Cadillac ads where it shows hands-free driving — on certain limited roadways. With Tesla, this is not the case — up to now, you still need to put just the right amount of torque on the steering wheel every ~30 seconds to let the car know you are paying attention. This is pretty stupid. If you put too much torque on the steering wheel, it exits you from FSD. If you put on too little torque, it doesn’t recognize your action. My old Nissan Leaf was much better. It had sensors built into the steering wheel which would sense when you squeezed it.

However, there is also a camera just above the mirror that is watching your face. It observes if you look at the screen to your right, look down at your phone, or start to nod off.

If you misbehave for too long, it warns you with a flashing blue signal at the top of the screen. If you persist, you get an audible warning signal. And if you persist longer, you get a big red flashing steering wheel on the screen and your vehicle begins to shut down.

Good News: It’s rumored that the next version of Full Self Driving (Supervised) won’t require tugging on the steering wheel. At least under the following conditions: 1) No sunglasses, 2) No baseball cap pulled down over your face, and 3) Enough cabin illumination so it can see your face. This can’t happen soon enough for me.

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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler has 126 posts and counting. See all posts by Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler