Tesla may grant certain customers early access to a “feature complete” version of the company’s “full self-driving” (FSD) capabilities by the end of 2019, Elon Musk said in a call with investors Wednesday. Musk said that this wasn’t “for sure” — but that he thinks Tesla is on track for the release.
It’s a kind of limited beta test, so there won’t be a bunch of Tesla vehicles driving around autonomously by the end of the year. Musk later clarified on the call that by “feature complete,” he means the car will be able to drive from someone’s home to their work without intervention. Drivers will still need to be ready to take control if the car runs into a problem. Some experts have taken issue with the way Musk talks about these features in the past, arguing he is muddying the waters by overselling a Tesla car’s capabilities.
Musk said Tesla Autopilot can handle high-speed driving, while its recently rolled out Smart Summon parking feature can handle low speeds. (How well Smart Summon works is up for debate, given the number of Tesla owners reporting bugs in the system.) The company has yet to allow its customers hands-off control of the vehicle at medium speeds, where they are more likely to encounter traffic signals, intersections, and other complexities. FSD is meant to address that gap in Tesla’s current autonomous capabilities.
There will be limits, Musk cautioned. “It doesn’t mean like every scenario everywhere on Earth, including every corner case,” he said. That contradicts previous statements by Musk. Earlier this year, Musk said Tesla’s vehicles will be able to achieve Level 5 autonomy “without a geofence,” which means they can drive anywhere, under any conditions.
Tesla has said it will activate its FSD feature by mid-2020, so today’s comments indicate the company is feeling bullish about its capabilities. Tesla has an early access program for select drivers that it uses as a testing platform to help iron out software bugs.
Musk previously estimated that by the middle of 2020, Tesla’s autonomous system will have improved to the point where drivers will not have to pay attention to the road. The company also plans to roll out autonomous taxis in some parts of the US. The service will allow Tesla owners to add their cars to a Tesla network, which he said would be akin to Uber or Airbnb.
In the call, Musk said even as the company begins to activate a feature-complete version of its FSD feature to early access members, it won’t mean the car will be fully full self-driving. Drivers will need to stay engaged until the end of 2020 at the earliest, Musk said.
Tesla brought back the FSD package earlier this year after shelving the option in late 2018 amid criticism the company was overselling the autonomy of its vehicles. Earlier this year Musk showed off the custom chip that Tesla will use to tackle this task, though he is well-known for missing his own deadlines.
Customers who are buying a Tesla have the option of purchasing the company’s FSD option for $6,000, or $8,000 after delivery. (The company raised prices by $1,000 in August; Musk has said prices will continue to go up every few months.)
Musk has long argued that Tesla’s self-driving advantage comes from having a large fleet of vehicles — around 425,000 — already on the road. Those cars record situations and provide training data to improve the neural networks needed for self-driving cars. The company’s approach to autonomous vehicles is primarily focused on computer vision, or using cameras — just like humans — to recognize and understand the world.
“We will have more than one million robotaxis on the road,” Musk said earlier this year. “A year from now, we’ll have over a million cars with full self-driving, software... everything.”