Electric vehicle maker Tesla rolled out a long-awaited software update on Friday evening that allows customers to request access to its controversial Full Self-Driving Beta (FSD Beta) software.
The move has thrilled fans of CEO Elon Musk and Tesla, but it risks angering federal vehicle safety authorities who are already investigating the automaker for possible safety flaws in its assistance systems. the driving.
FSD Beta is an unfinished version of Tesla’s premium driver assistance software, FSD, which the company sells in the United States for $ 10,000 up front, or $ 199 per month.
FSD is marketed with the promise of allowing a Tesla to automatically change lanes, navigate the freeway, drive to a parking spot, or exit a parking spot to travel a short distance at a fast pace. slow with no one behind the wheel.
The beta version of FSD gives drivers access to a “city streets autoguiding” feature, which has not yet been perfected and allows drivers to automatically navigate in urban environments alongside other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and pets without moving the steering wheel with their own hands. However, drivers are expected to remain alert, with both hands on the wheel and ready to resume driving at any time.
None of Tesla’s driver assistance systems, including the company’s standard autopilot package, the Premium Full Self-Driving option, or FSD Beta, make Teslas self-sufficient.
The company had previously made FSD Beta available to around 2,000 people, a mix of mostly employees and a few customers, who tested it in the streets even though the software had not been debugged.
The new download button could apparently lead to a rapid increase in the number of participants who are not trained regulators.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk gestures as he visits the construction site of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany on August 13, 2021.
Patrick Pleul | Reuters
Last week, when CEO Musk announced new details about the FSD’s beta button, Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Transport Safety Board, raised concerns about the company’s plans in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Homendy said, “Basic safety issues need to be addressed,” before Tesla rolls out the beta version of FSD to other streets and areas of the city. The NTSB chief was also unhappy that the company was testing the unfinished product with untrained drivers on public roads instead of security professionals.
Homendy also noted – and in interviews with Autonocast, an industry podcast, and the Washington Post – that Tesla’s use of the term Full Self-Driving for a “level 2 driver assistance system” Is misleading and confusing.
Musk himself said in a tweet last week that the FSD beta now looks so good it can give drivers the misconception that they don’t need to be careful with driving while the version FSD’s beta is engaged, although they’re supposed to stay alert and on the go at all times.
On Saturday, after Tesla activated the ‘request a full beta of autonomous driving’ feature in its vehicles – a fan blog named Teslarati shared a post on Twitter asking, ‘Does Tesla have a chance right after the comments from the head of the NTSB? “
Musk responded to them on Twitter with a link to Homendy’s Wikipedia biography. While Musk has previously urged his tens of millions of Twitter followers to modify a description of his own career on Wikipedia, he shared this link to Homendy’s biography there without comment.
CNBC reached out to Tesla and the NTSB – neither were immediately available for comment on Saturday.
Musk promised Tesla owners an FSD beta download button for months. In March 2021, he wrote in a tweet that the next button would give users access to the latest beta of FSD as soon as their car was connected to Wi-Fi.
He changed that approach, however. Now, Tesla has a calculator that it uses to give drivers a “safety score” and determine who will be allowed to obtain and use FSD Beta software.
Screenshots shared with CNBC by Tesla owners with FSD indicate that the company’s “safety score” is akin to an insurance risk factor score.
Tesla’s systems total a driver: “Predicted collision frequency, forward collision warning per 1,000 miles, hard braking, aggressive cornering, dangerous following time, and forced autopilot disengages,” according to correspondence and screenshots viewed by CNBC.
Tesla’s system does not appear, at the moment, to measure and account for how often drivers fail to keep their hands on the wheel, how quickly they take over when prompted or the regularity with which they keep their eyes on the road.
Only users who have an excellent driving record for a full week, according to Tesla, can access the beta version of FSD.
Before Tesla released its FSD Beta button (and version 10.1 of FSD Beta, which is also expected this weekend), CNBC asked the California DMV Autonomous Vehicles Branch to what extent vehicles equipped with FSD Beta have been used. in the state so far. .
The DMV declined an interview request but said, in an emailed statement:
“Based on information Tesla provided to the DMV, the functionality does not make the vehicle an autonomous vehicle under California regulations. The DMV continues to collect information from Tesla on its beta, including any program and feature extensions. If the capabilities of the feature change so that it meets the definition of an autonomous vehicle under California law and regulations, Tesla will need to operate under the appropriate regulatory authorization. Regardless of the vehicle’s level of range, the DMV reminded Tesla that clear and effective communication to the driver about the capabilities, limitations and intended use of the technology is necessary. The DMV is examining the company’s use of the term “fully autonomous driving” for its technology. Because it is ongoing, the DMV cannot discuss the review until it is completed. “