Tesla Reportedly Holds Preliminary Talks to License Full Self-Driving Software

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has indicated a willingness to license the company’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) software to other automakers during a Q4 earnings call. He said that Tesla has had some preliminary talks with automakers who may be interested in integrating an automated driving software into their vehicles.

FSD is currently in its public beta phase and already capable of handling most normal driving scenarios with only some input from drivers for unusual scenarios. Tesla vehicle owners who are testing the software have said that they only had to intervene to avoid unexpected events like another vehicle drifting into their lane. However, preliminary tests also seem to indicate that drivers can more easily become distracted while the FSD software is operating and may fail to respond to events on the road that the software is not yet equipped to handle.

Musk had hoped to release the full version of the software by the end of 2020 and may still launch a software subscription service in 2021. This follows Elon Musk’s normal pattern of attempting to set an ambitious timeline that will usually face delays.

The current weaknesses have drawn criticism from competitors like Waymo, whose CEO says that FSD might become a good driver assistance program, but won’t become capable of driving without supervision from the user. However, Tesla aims to improve the software partly with the training of a neural network with additional real-world driving data. Tesla currently has access to more than a billion miles’ worth of data from FSD beta users.

The company’s software engineers are especially working on improving automatic labeling of objects in video footage from Tesla vehicles’ onboard cameras. Planned improvements to this system includes the activation of a supercomputer called Dojo later this year. The system currently relies on humans who can more rapidly recognize elements like a turn lane or exit lane. Improvements to automatic labeling will enable FSD to do that on its own. Elon Musk says this is key to his ultimate goal of making the software’s reliability “two thousand percent better than the average human.”

Musk had indicated that his willingness to share the software is part of Tesla’s “philosophy is definitely not to create walled gardens.” He already has plans to make its network of Superchargers compatible with other automakers’ electric vehicles. Amusingly enough, in September 2020, European owners of non-Tesla electric vehicles discovered a “bug” in Superchargers that let them charge their vehicles. The bug was apparently the result of a flaw in a software update meant to advance Tesla’s goal of meeting European compatibility standards. Tesla will likely work with other automakers to make that more normal.

Once FSD is ready for full release, licensing it to other automakers could be a big revenue boost to Tesla. Despite a record number of vehicle deliveries in 2020, earnings in Q4 2020 were apparently disappointing to investors. Musk may be banking on FSD to solve that with software sales, subscriptions, and his preliminary talks with other automakers to license the software.