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

A white Tesla charges up at Superchargers

Breaking down Tesla’s 6+ businesses, comparing them to a traditional car company

Welcome back to my blog, I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s post. I am sharing part of Elon Musk‘s words from the All-In Summit on May 16, 2022. The reason I’m focusing on this in today’s post is that I believe Elon explains what Tesla is in an easy-to-understand way. We are all transitioning away from fossil fuels and into a clean energy future involving solar, wind, battery storage, and electric vehicles.

I believe that after reading this you will be inspired to see the future in a more positive way. So find a cool spot, grab an iced beverage, and enjoy!

A white Tesla charges up at Superchargers
Tesla Supercharging Network [Credit: Tesla]

When Elon Musk spoke at the All-In Summit on May 16, he detailed how Tesla is 6+ businesses. Below is Elon’s response to the question: Could you just explain to people all these companies inside this super-company just so folks have a sense of what had to be done to get here? 

"Okay, I mean this question requires thought and I’ll probably be leaving out quite a few things but if you look and see what does a typical car company do, what they do is they assemble vehicles and they send them to dealers and they manage the supply chain. They might make the engine, they typically will make the engine but most of the parts are made by suppliers and a lot of the actual technology development is done by suppliers, and most of the vehicle software is done by suppliers, so the actual amount of a real work done by car companies - what you think of as GM or Ford - is not actually that much. They don’t do sales, they don’t do service."  

Tesla Sales, Service, Supercharging Network

"So in the case of Tesla for example we do our own sales and service. We don’t have dealerships. Tesla also has by far the biggest network of superchargers, the electric equivalent of gas stations.  We built the entire global supercharger network, which is still the most advanced and by far the best way to charge your car when traveling long distances or if you live in a city and don’t have the ability to charge your car because of street parking or an apartment. We developed the Supercharger network, and we deployed it I think we have around 15,000 superchargers globally.  You can travel anywhere in America right now with the Tesla supercharger network."

Tesla Vertical Integration

"In terms of vertical integration, we make the battery pack, and the power electronics, the drive unit.  We are more integrated into the parts, we actually make so much of the car internally, we’re vertically integrated, not necessarily because we think that there is some religious reason to be vertically integrated, but because the pace we needed to move is much faster than the supply chain could move.  To the degree that you inherit the legacy supply chain, you inherit the legacy constraints including their speed, cost, and technology."

Tesla Software, Hardware, Artificial Intelligence

"Tesla is as much a software company as it is a hardware company.  The software that runs in a Tesla operates the car, operates the screen, does the charging, and all of that stuff is developed by Tesla. And so we have sort of a ‘Tesla OS’ in the car." 

“Very importantly, Tesla has built an autopilot AI team from scratch that is the best real-world AI team on earth and if anyone else has got a better one I’d like to see it demonstrated in a car.” 

"The full self-driving beta at this point very often can take you with zero interventions across the Bay Area from San Jose to Marin so through complex traffic it’s really quite sophisticated and I invite anyone to join the beta or look at the videos of those who are in the beta.  We’ve got like 100,000 people in the beta so it's not tiny.  We’ll be expanding the beta to about a million people or on that order by the end of the year."  

Tesla Chip Team

"We also built a chip team because there wasn’t the hardware that we could run the friggin AI on. We couldn’t just fill the trunk with a whole bunch of GPUs.  That would’ve been very expensive and take massive amounts of power and cooling just to do what Tesla designed full self-driving computer can do." 

“We started chip team from scratch and it was the best in the world and still is the best in the world several years later.”

Tesla Dojo Supercomputer

"We’re also designing a dojo supercomputer to be able to process all video that's coming in from billions of miles of data, because, just sort of like the way that its critical to compete with Google because they have so much data and they have all the people doing searches all the time and humanity is training it.  The same is true of Tesla.  You really need billions of miles and ultimately tens of billions of miles of training data combined with sort of a vast training computer and then optimize inference hardware in the car and state of the art AI in training, and specialized software across-the-board to be able to achieve a full self-driving solution."  

Tesla Insurance

"Insurance is quite significant.  The car insurance thing is a bigger deal than it may seem.  A lot of people are paying 30% to 40% as much as their lease payment for the car in car insurance.  The car insurance industry is incredibly inefficient because to put it this way, you’ve got so many middle entities from the insurance agent all the way to the final set of reinsures each taking a cut."  

“The car insurance thing is a bigger deal than it may seem.”

"It's all very statistical so that even if you are a very good driver, you could be like 20 years old and a great driver but it's all statistical so you either can’t get insurance or it's extremely expensive.  Tesla allows for real-time insurance based on how you actually drive the car.  If you drive the car in a safer way you actually have lower insurance.  So our insurance is based on how you actually drive not how historically people fit your demographic drive and you close the loop around your insurance rate by simply driving better and looking at your score and lowering your insurance in real-time and people do it.   It actually promotes safer driving."

A Brief Summary

Elon Musk highlighted why Tesla is unlike any other company involved in vehicle production.  He spoke about the importance of Tesla Sales, Service, and the Global Supercharging Network.  Tesla’s vertical integration model, as well as Tesla Software, Tesla Hardware, Chip Team, and Tesla AI are unprecedented.  Tesla’s Dojo Supercomputer work will serve to usher in an age of vehicle autonomy.  Tesla Insurance is also an integral part of why Tesla is so unique.  The insurance allows for younger (and also older) drivers a rate based on how they actually drive.  The All-In Summit was a good opportunity for people to hear Elon speak, and to consider being “all-in” for Tesla!

The All-In Summit was hosted by Chamath Palihapitiya, jason@calacanis.com, David Sacks, and David Friedberg. You can follow Jason Calacanis on Twitter and be one of his Besties!

Elon Musk talks at All-In Summit. [Photo credit: Juilian Hosp]

When I bought my Model 3 in 2019, I joined a community of many people who love Tesla. Every time I drive my Tesla around my hometown Austin, Texas, I’m reminded of the extraordinary effort that is put into making Tesla succeed. In January 2022, I started this blog to write positive things about Tesla and Elon Musk. I’m thankful to Johnna Crider for supporting and encouraging me to start this blog. 

You can read more about Tesla Insurance here and you can read about how Tesla owners feel about full self-driving here. Thank you!  

Gail Alfar, [Edited by Sarah Alfar] Exclusive to What’s Up Tesla – All Rights Reserved. May 21, 2022