Tesla boss Elon Musk has updated the timeline for the release of the next version of its full self-driving (FSD) beta software as well as the planned FSD subscription model, and says the difference between v8 and v9 of FSD beta will be “gigantic”.
FSD is Tesla’s autonomous driving software which is currently only available to the general public as a series of semi-autonomous functions, and is in beta-testing with a small number of drivers as Tesla works towards ensuring close to perfect operation without the need for human intervention before approaching regulators for its approval as a Level 5 autonomous driving solution.
FSD is currently available as an add-on before or after buying an electric car (in Australia it costs $A10,000), but Musk has also flagged in the past that it would become available as a subscription in 2021.
It is unclear if this will be available only as a full-featured product or also as a semi-autonomous product.
As is often the case with “Elon time” though, two weeks is up, and the timeline is being extended.
According to Musk, the main reason for the delay is that – as was revealed at the company’s Q1 2021 earnings call in late April – Tesla’s autonomous team had decided that the visual component of its electric vehicles’ sensory equipment had progressed to the point that radar was essentially superfluous.
On Wednesday evening (Australia time), Musk said in response to a question from Gary Black, an investment analyst, about when the FSD v9 beta and subscription would be launched, Musk said, “We had to focus on removing radar & confirming safety.
“That release goes out next week to US production. Then a week or two to polish pure vision FSD & v9 beta will release. Difference between v8 & v9 is gigantic.”
When FSD will be available as a fully-featured product is unclear. Musk’s presence on Twitter and in earnings calls is the only public touchpoint with Tesla, which has shut down its public relations departments.
He is often asked for progress reports, and in regards to FSD he said in the company’s January earnings call that he was, “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year.”
In April during the company’s Q1 2021 earnings call he said, “it’s really quite, quite tricky. But I am highly confident that we will get this done.”
This was recently apparently contradicted by a memo of a meeting about the expansion of Tesla’s “Navigate on Autopilot on City Streets” – colloquially knowns as FSD beta – between Tesla’s director of Autopilot software CJ Moore and California regulators which was acquired by Plainsite under a freedom of information act request.
“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” the memo notes, summarising the conversation between four Tesla employees, including Moore, and regulators with the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ autonomous vehicles branch.
In the memo, the Californian authority, DMV, asked for clarification about Musk’s messaging about Level 5 autonomy being available by the end of 2021.
Moore responded according to the memo, “Tesla is at Level 2 currently. The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation.”
Level 2 refers to driver-assist technologies that currently are available to the general public, such as adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist (both Autopilot features), and lane-changing assist (such as Navigate on Autopilot, or NoA, which is an FSD feature).
FSD owners also have features such as Smart Summon (a driverless capability intended for car parks and private roads but which has a human able to intervene from the outside of the vehicle using a smartphone), something that does not appear to have been of consequence in the memo.
Moore went on to add that Musk’s messaging was based on “extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 (true autonomous driving without the need for human intervention) capabilities,” and that, “Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.”
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.