How Far Away are we from Full Autonomy in a Tesla?

Today, over a cup of hot Texas Pecan coffee, I began thinking about how great my Tesla is running on FSD beta, and I was wondering just how far away we all are from a Tesla Robotaxi. 

My Tesla seems almost fully autonomous, so I wanted to find out about other peoples’ experiences.  I did a little searching and came to find out there are many people all over the USA driving in many conditions with zero disengagements when they use FSD beta.  I found out Tesla’s first concern is safety and that no other vehicle companies are doing it like Tesla.  Let’s look further into these details, and come up with a smart estimate of how far away we are from full Tesla autonomy.

Three Tesla drivers (including me) experience near-autonomous driving on busy challenging roads 

On a typical street in the suburbs in front of a typical Austin house, I got ready to do errands I put the Tesla in FSD beta mode –always remember that when you use FSD beta, your eyes must be constantly on the road and your hands on the steering wheel– and sat back and monitored the car’s driving as it began to wind around Austin streets, up and down hills and to a busy intersection where it made a right on red and merged quickly onto the 183.  After a smooth change onto busy Mopac, the car exited onto a two-lane access road and a half mile down it slowed and turned onto a private drive and took us past parked cars, and stopped at the front doors of a medical clinic.  

Several hours later, I was back in the Tesla. Tesla maps have a tab that says “hungry.”  I used this to find a new place to get food and then pressed FSD beta and the car was off. We came to a 4 lane unprotected left turn –kinda an anxiety provoker for me– and the software found a break in the traffic and moved to the middle divider.  After several cars, it made the left turn, moved over 2 more lanes, and then made a quick right.  Taking a street I had never been on before, the car turned into a parking lot and stopped in front of the restaurant. We had a GREAT meal and talked about, you guessed it, Tesla!

People across the country, from California to Texas to New York, are essentially already experiencing supervised and safe autonomy on complex unmarked roads with turns, construction, and more. 

Around the same time, in San Francisco, Omar Qazi of Whole Mars Blog, was testing FSD beta in his Tesla, he explains, “If you went and gave a few Uber rides using FSD Beta, the vast majority of the passengers would not notice that the car is being driven by software. Some people didn’t believe me so I ran an experiment… “ The first passenger had no clue at all that the car was driving itself, and when she found out she laughed with delight and called it cool! 

The second passenger didn’t notice at first but then later noticed the car was stopping when Omar did not have his feet on the brakes, He said, “so this is like a driverless car?” He was clearly delighted and also thought it was awesome.

Meanwhile, in New York state, a similar scenario was playing out.  Corey Aronson wrote, “Just did three Uber rides in a row. All zero takeover. All passengers on all rides had zero clue the car was driving itself. I can’t drive better than FSD Beta anymore, almost ever. Everyone is just on their phone getting driven by the robot.”  Corey told me the most common things people ask first about FSD beta are if it “Works without the yellow road lines?” and “Will it put the blinker on?” Of course, the answer is YES to both!

What more is needed for full Tesla autonomy?

To try to answer this, I listened carefully to what Elon Musk said during the Tesla, Q3 2022 earnings call,

“The safety that we are seeing, when the car is in FSD mode is actually significantly greater than the safety that we are seeing when it is not, which a key threshold for going to wide beta.”  – Elon Musk

Elon Musk explained that in Q4 2022, we should expect Tesla will release FSD beta to every single person that has purchased FSD. 

This means that before we see full autonomy, more people need to use FSD beta, in order to contribute valuable data to Tesla’s AI team.  The more use cases there are, the better! 

Why is Tesla leading in this area and what’s the difference between what Tesla does and what other vehicle companies are doing for autonomy?

Tesla AI team has some of the best artificial intelligence researchers in the world, so the software evolves into sharper accuracy and greater safety over a short time.  Elon Musk spoke about the great interest in Tesla AI at the Q3 2022 earnings call,

 “Our goal with that AI Day was to push recruiting, and we’ve seen a massive influx of world class artificial intelligence engineers and scientists.  It generated a tremendous amount of interest from some of the best AI researchers in the world. 

I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough.  Because I think, finally, it has become clear to the smartest AI technologists in the world, that Tesla is among the very best!” – Elon Musk

No other companies that aim to produce vehicles are like Tesla because they are relying on outdated, overpriced, and unreliable technology like Lidar and radar. 

Elon Musk has stated before that Tesla will offer their autonomous capabilities to others. Thus far, I have not found any other vehicle manufacturer outside of China to be seriously mass-manufacturing electric vehicles.

No other carmaker in the world has scaled the production of EVs like Tesla has. Tesla aims to mass-produce autonomous-capable cars.  Other manufacturers appear to be content with creating cars based on assembly techniques better suited to combustion cars and to employ “driverless systems” that are expensive, limited in speed, limited to where they are used, and cannot be scaled.

CONCLUSION

As shown in this article, Tesla vehicles are already capable of a high degree of autonomy in challenging situations including where there are no lane markings.  If you define autonomy in the high-quality way that Tesla does, Tesla is so far ahead of any other company, and when they offer Robotaxi, it’s going to apply to every situation, and it will not be limited.

It’s hard to say if autonomy will be solved for Tesla in 2023 or beyond, but I do think that the larger the fleet of vehicles are, the closer we are to it.

As a Registered Nurse, I always advocate for maximum safety for humans, and this coincides with Tesla’s mission!

  • Currently, there has to be a driver in the seat supervising because the system still needs to be safer. When the driver detects an unsafe situation, that driver takes over and that data can be sent to Tesla
  • Tesla’s AI Team, the best of its kind in the world, strives to increase safety all the time.  The smartest AI technologists in the world like to work for Tesla!
  • As safety reaches a point where it is above or equal to what the best human driver could do, we will start to see local regulatory agencies open the door to allowing Tesla to test Robotaxis on complex roads.

Austin Skyline by Christofer Sherman.

Want to read more excellent articles? I suggest…

Who Will Benefit Once Tesla Autonomy is Solved? I believe a world where autonomy is the norm is closer than we realize.  This article attempts to answer the question, who will benefit once Tesla autonomy is solved? 

If You Haven’t Used Autopilot Yet, Why Not? (3 Essentials) This article covers 3 areas,

  1. Tesla Autopilot is safer than a human driving
  2. Enabling Autopilot during a drive is easy
  3. You can use Autopilot on your daily drives and disable it anytime during a drive

Images in this article of the Model Y Midnight Cherry Red are Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Article Exclusive to What’s Up Tesla – October 29, 2022. All Rights Reserved. “My goal as an author is to support Tesla and Elon Musk in both making lives better on earth for humans and becoming a space-faring civilization.” – Gail Alfar

8 thoughts on “How Far Away are we from Full Autonomy in a Tesla?

  1. I am in Austin, have FSD, and find it far from optimal. In fact, I frequently have to take over, and it has sever problems with left turns and dead ends. I’ve been using this for 2 years now and it is no where near ready for prime time.

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  2. Here in Chicago… not the burbs… 60% of the time FSD is fine, 25% of the time it drives like a 16 year old on those their first permit and 15% if the time or drives like it is stoned out of it’s mind. That’s on virtually every trip. I only use it in hopes it will get better because it is so bad right now. It occasionally runs red lights, seems to always want to move to the right when a rode widens… and ends up in a turn lane it shouldn’t be in, shivers and shakes when it is baffled at an intersection, and warns of collisions on right turns when there is a parked car on the opposing side. With as bad as it is in the city it is hard to see it being ready anytime soon for full autonomy.

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  3. I am excited to hear that there are areas in the US that Autopilot works so well. In the NW Suburbs of Chicago it does very well but I have yet to have a drive, even very short under 2 miles that I have not had to intervien. When there is no one else in the road, things are much better however the decision making process still takes to long before the vehicle reacts and situations like the vehicle slowing down before the turn signal comes on frustrates drivers following behind. Also in my case my model y is not centered in the lane but hugs the centerline. Tesla has not addressed this for the last two years.

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      • In Seattle, I literally cannot let the FSD beta go 30 seconds without intervention. The narrow inconsistent streets of residential Seattle cause almost immediate and constant failure. Even the poor state of our 50+ year old highway and constant construction causes it to fail regularly, maybe once every 5 minutes.

        I do not see how they are going to ever succeed without introducing some form of route specific memory to the system. It still doesn’t use the lanes like a human driver staying to the right or left when you’re in an outer lane. It tries to use the routes through residential roads where it tries to take a left across 2 lanes of traffic with poor visibility when it rejoins a main road. It offers no ability to learn my route to avoid traffic or dangerous intersections or drive more like me. It’s overly cautious and under cautious at the same time.

        I viewed my purchase of FSD as an investment in the leader to bring autonomous driving to market, but I am constantly unimpressed and disagreeing with their strategic direction. I fully expect somebody else to pass them and only then will overconfident Elon make adjustments. He’s done impressive things and I generally think he’s a strong entrepreneur, but he needs some humility.

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