Tesla’s Full Self-Driving option has long held the promise of being able to automatically navigate with Autopilot on any road, including city streets; even so far as becoming a Level 5 (see What do Levels Mean?), fully autonomous system. Customers who have spent thousands of dollars for the expensive Full Self-Driving package expecting city street Autopilot are also eagerly awaiting this functionality.
That said, it’s been a long road to achieving autonomous driving as navigating on any open road under any condition, is one of the most complex tasks for any AI system to handle. Originally Elon Musk targeted a fully autonomous trip from Los Angeles to New York in 2017, only to drop that goal altogether later on. Then, Full Self-Driving was targeted to be “feature-complete” by the end of 2019, only to move the timeline further out.
Eventually, we learned that Tesla was doing a major overhaul of the AI-based Autopilot system, a “rewrite”, so-to-speak. In late 2020, this rewrite, known as “Full Self-Driving Beta” (or FSD Beta), started rolling out to a small select group of testers with a likely broader release in 2021. While the Full Self-Driving package will have the ability to automatically turn on city streets, despite its name, it will not be fully autonomous (Level 5), and will still require an attentive driver for the foreseeable future.
Full Self-Driving Rewrite Creates 4D Environment
At the heart of the new Full Self-Driving rewrite is the capability for the neural network computer to utilize all eight cameras around the car, allowing it to create a virtual 3D (4D with time) environment for better situational awareness.
Full Self-Driving on City Streets
Creating this 3D model (4D with time) is especially critical for navigating city streets since that environment is far more complex than freeway driving. It will allow the vehicle to make complex maneuvers as mentioned by Tesla in the Beta release notes:
“When Full Self-Driving is enabled your vehicle will make lane changes off-highway, select forks to follow your navigation route, navigate around other vehicles and objects, and make left and right turns.“
That said, because this is a software rewrite and the entire system needs to be tested, not only the new features, early beta testers are being warned to be extra vigilant:
“Full Self-Driving is in early limited access beta and must be used with additional caution. It may do the wrong thing at the worst time, so you must always keep your hands on the wheel and pay extra attention to the road. Do not become complacent.“
It is not clear whether the Full Self-Driving Beta testers received any other training on how to drive with this beta software outside of the warning above.
Likely Release in Early 2021
Elon stated during the Q3 2020 earnings call that Tesla hopes to release it more broadly in 2020, but also said in an earlier Tweet:
In addition, during the earnings call he said “We’re starting very slow and very cautiously because the world is a very complex and messy place”, so likely expect a public release in 2021.
Wider FSD Beta Release in the Meantime
Elon said that if early FSD Beta releases, look good, Tesla will broaden the release to more testers in December 2020 and beyond…
Early Look at Full Self-Driving Beta
Early beta testers have already shown off some of the functionality. Here’s a video showing some (very excited) early testers trying it hands-on:
However it’s still has a way to go:
Handling roundabouts is a very difficult challenge:
Speed bumps also need to be handled:
As you can see, this is still very early release testing software, likely still a long ways off from public release, but has impressive capabilities.
The team at Tesla appears to be making rapid progress, releasing updates to Beta testers every 5 to 10 days, according to Elon Musk, so improvements should come quickly.
Full Self-Driving Rewrite Release
While the Full Self-Driving update still appears to be a little ways off, it’s great to see real progress being made. That said, it’s important to remember that “Full Self-Driving” still very much requires an attentive driver and is not a “Level 5” fully autonomous driving system, despite the name. However, it’s great that Tesla continues to push the envelope in this area and provide exciting new Autopilot updates and finally bring significant new assisted driving functionality to those who purchased the Full Self-Driving package. We’re excited to see what the future holds!