Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’ finally debuts (with a grave warning)

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Words: Matthew Hansen
23 Oct 2020

After years of claims by Elon Musk that Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’ autonomous technology was just around the corner, the firm has finally released a Beta development version to owners keen to sample the system in its infancy.

The system represents a step up from the standard ‘Autopilot’ level two autonomous system most of us are accustomed to. As the system improves, it’s said to lead to options where Tesla owners could deploy their cars as autonomous self-driving ride-share vehicles, according to Musk.

The update includes automatic lane changes, automatic parking where cars can ‘find’ their own parking spaces before parking in them, and have cars be programmed to choose forks in the motorway before you get to them, all while registering the cars it's sharing the road with and their speeds. Tesla says the tech will eventually improve to the point of being a full level-five autonomous system.

But while it could represent the start of a new chapter of progress for Tesla, the firm has been ultra cautious on all fronts. Musk himself Tweeted that the system will be “extremely slow” and “cautious” in its operation. And, owners who have opted in to trial the system have been given the following warning to tick before approval.

“Full Self-Driving is in early limited access Beta and must be used with additional caution,” starts the warning. “It may do the wrong thing at the worst time, so you must always keep your hands on the wheel and pay extra attention to the road. Do not become complacent.

“When Full Self-Driving is enabled your vehicle will make lane changes off highway, select forks to follow your navigation route, navigate around other vehicles and objects, and make left and right turns.

“Use Full Self-Driving in limited Beta only if you will pay constant attention to the road, and be prepared to act immediately, especially around blind corners, crossings, intersections, and in narrow driving situations.”

The cautious tone from Tesla and Musk comes after a rough patch of news for the firm. This included high-profile stories in the US and Canada of a driver being asleep and reclined while being caught driving 150km/h, and another driver who’s video of him recording his Tesla Model X driving by itself while he sat in the passenger seat went viral.

An MIT study found that drivers using Autopilot glance away from the road more often, and a third of drivers wouldn’t have their hands on the steering wheel before disengaging Autopilot. The study called for Tesla to tweak the technology to encourage drivers to be more attentive.

Just as interesting are the ongoing discussions around autonomous driving and its regulation. Although the US is seen as being one of the more lax nations when it comes to the emerging tech, it also recently charged an autonomous car driver with homicide after the Uber Volvo XC90 they were testing struck and killed a pedestrian in 2018.

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