The beta version of Tesla’s Full-Self Driving (FSD) software could be downloaded via a button in the car’s touchscreen interface from May, Elon Musk tweeted this morning.
Tesla’s FSD autonomous driving software was first rolled out to about 1,000 drivers in October 2020, in a bid to expose and further develop the software ahead of a wider public release.
It’s also a clever way to ensure Tesla customers are invested in the success of the technology: the limited number of testers has fed envy and appetite for those left out of the program and has seen numerous hashtags generated in other countries such as #FSDbetaAU and #FSDbetaCanada as drivers lobby to have the program extended.
A download button for Tesla FSD will mean more customers (likely only in the US to begin with) who have purchased the self-driving package will be able to participate in the program without the need for Tesla to hand-pick beta testers.
But first, Tesla wants to ensure the program is ready to roll out to more people.
The new comment comes as Tesla reaches for what Musk has referred to as a “month of 9s”, as the electric car company strives to reach as close to 100% probability of no injury when using its autonomous driving software as possible.
Major improvements are being made to the vision stack every week. Beta button hopefully next month.
This is a “march of 9’s” trying to get probability of no injury above 99.999999% of miles for city driving. Production Autopilot is already above that for highway driving.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 14, 2021
But some auto industry stakeholders are either not impressed, or are even perhaps intimidated, by Tesla’s decision to include citizen beta testers in its program.
The latest of these is Ford, which will introduce advanced semi-autonomous capabilities to its combustion engine 2021 Ford F-150 and its all-electric Mustang Mach-E later in 2021 via an over-the-air update. It will cost Ford’s customers $US600 for a three-year period.
On Wednesday (US time), Ford CEO Jim Farley took a shot at Tesla in a tweet, as he shared a video marketing the US auto giant’s BlueCruise hands-free technology.
“BlueCruise! We tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to,” said Farley, taking a jab at Tesla.
BlueCruise! We tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to. pic.twitter.com/dgqVkWH31r
— Jim Farley (@jimfarley98) April 14, 2021
He may have, however, missed the point. As Ford points out in its video, BlueCruise is touted as a “hands-free” driving technology. It tracks the eye movements of drivers to make sure they don’t take their eyes off the road, and can only be used on pre-mapped highways that have been tested by Ford.
Tesla’s FSD software is very different to this because it is ultimately intended to be used by drivers without the need to pay attention to the road.
It will also be designed to be used on roads Tesla cars have never visited before as the millions of kilometres already driven by its customers sent back to Tesla as data have allowed it to make a quantum leap ahead of other developers of self-driving or driver-assist technology.
There were mixed reactions to Farley’s comment, with some criticising the cost of Tesla’s FSD package (it currently costs $A10,100 locally), and others dubbing it “vaporware” because Tesla has not yet fully delivered on its full capabilities, although anyone paying attention can see features have been rolled out over time and are still being worked towards (hence the beta program).
Another said, “Have you considered that your customers might have absolutely loved testing it in the real world?”
There have been no injuries or deaths reported regarding Tesla’s FSD program to date. A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that there are approximately 330,000 accidents a year on US roads due to sleepy drivers, a third of which result in injuries and 6,400 of which result in deaths.
In Australia, a national road safety action plan says the Victorian and Queensland safety bodies report between 20-30% of fatal road crashes are the result of fatigue.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.