Tesla is rolling out a major upgrade for the beta version of Full Self-Driving (FSD) for testers who signed up for its Early Access Program. While FSD is not quite ready for prime time yet and Elon Musk himself recently admitted that developing fully autonomous driving was more challenging than he thought it would be, the new Version 9 Beta of FSD does roll out some important improvements to the software.
New updates include improved off-highway use that includes lane changes and improved visualization of what the vehicle’s exterior cameras can see. It also includes a recent update to the Autopilot software that turned on a camera mounted to the rearview mirror to monitor driver alertness. The camera activation may have been sparked by documented incidents in which Californian Tesla owners were seen riding in the back seat of a vehicle with the Autopilot engaged. Elon Musk further encouraged alertness in a recent tweet:
Like many projects being developed by Elon Musk’s companies, updates for Full Self-Driving have slipped from their original release schedule. Musk had originally planned to release the features included in the most recent update in August 2018 and have as many as a million drivers using the software by 2020.
A limited beta did indicate that they were not yet ready for a wide release and Autopilot still requires an operator in the driver’s seat with hands on the wheel – a function that Consumer Reports says can be fooled with judicious use of a few weights, which may have made the dangerous stunts pulled by those Californian Tesla owners possible.
Tesla may also be especially concerned about safety after a string of crashes that included one in Texas in which authorities initially theorized that the Autopilot was active, although that later turned out not to be the case. The incident was enough to attract an annoying level of attention from lawmakers who called for a probe into the safety of Tesla’s driver assist programs.
Despite the challenges, Full Self-Driving is slowly improving, likely assisted by the amount of driving data that is sent to Tesla’s supercomputers. Tesla recently spun up a new supercomputer in late June to assist with “training” of the AI behind its driver assist programs and plans to have the supercomputer named Dojo up and running by the end of the year. Tesla has said that the AI has access to more than six billion miles of driving data.
Slots for the Early Access Program, which enables public beta testing for Full Self-Driving, are limited and there is a long waitlist for access. Beta testers have been booted from the program due to their failure to stay alert while using FSD because its use can lure drivers into a false sense of security. FSD can already handle driving environments like a parking lot well enough to make the Summon feature possible but is still far from perfect and requires user input for many scenarios. This latest update is a sign that it is improving, though, if a bit more slowly than Elon Musk would like.