Practically a year has passed since Tesla started testing, with a select group of users, the beta version of the software package that turns the brand’s vehicles into autonomous electric cars (FSD, or “Full Self-Driving”). Now, the latest and most promising update arrives, taking autonomous driving to a whole new level.
What is FSD?
The FSD software aims to provide a fully autonomous driving experience, not only on highways but also in city streets. It builds on top of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which matches the speed of the car to the surrounding traffic and assists in steering within clearly marked lanes. FSD is meant as a significant step forward, adding these capabilities:
- Navigate on Autopilot (Beta): Actively guides your car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, including suggesting lane changes, navigating interchanges, automatically engaging the turn signal, and taking the correct exit.
- Auto Lane Change: Assists in moving to an adjacent lane on the highway when Autosteer is engaged.
- Autopark: Helps automatically parallel or perpendicular park your car, with a single touch.
- Summon: Moves your car in and out of a tight space using the mobile app or key.
- Smart Summon: Your car will navigate more complex environments and parking spaces, maneuvering around objects as necessary to come to find you in a parking lot.
- Traffic and Stop Sign Control (Beta): Identifies stop signs and traffic lights and automatically slows your car to a stop-on approach, with your active supervision.
Driving assists are easier to implement on highways, due to the more predictable flow of traffic and visibility of signs and markings. In city streets, however, the surrounding environment is much less predictable. The system has to be able to gather an impressive amount of information and react accordingly. This poses a difficult challenge, particularly for the image acquisition and processing system, which Tesla has been optimizing continuously.
It’s officially a Level 2 assistance since it requires the active and vigilant presence of the driver at all times and that he/she has his/her hands on the wheel, to be able to act in case of any emergency or system failure. Despite this classification, Tesla’s FSD allows vehicles to drive autonomously on streets and roads of different cities, without the need for them to be previously loaded into the system, as is the case with other technologies.
The first users and beta testers have recently received version 10 of Tesla’s FSD, accessible via the Tesla app (‘Schedule Service’ > ‘Accessories’ > ‘Upgrades & Accessories’ > ‘Full Self-Driving Computer’). Soon after, they started flooding social media with videos where they test the software update that Elon Musk described as “mind-blowing.”
Improvements and Evolution
The FSD beta 10 that is arriving these days to the beta tester fleet, is a part of the 2020.24.15 update. The first videos show substantial changes in the interface of the main screen of the Model 3 and Y, and also in the secondary screen of the Model S and X. The visualization of the environment displayed by the vehicle is cleaner and less ‘robotic’ compared to previous versions, showing a more accurate augmented reality.
Although the performance of FSD beta 10 on the highway is practically identical to that of the Autopilot that any recent Tesla has, this version is a step forward in terms of the capabilities to recognize the environment and interact with it in streets and urban environments, where it makes the most difference.
One of the most impressive displays of the software so far is this video on the winding Lombard Street in San Francisco at night!
So what does this mean for the future of autonomous vehicles? It seems to be an incremental improvement over previous versions, rather than a revolution (Elon Musk’s hyping may have created unrealistic expectations). It is, however, an important step towards a “robotaxi” level of self-driving. This is ultimately Tesla’s goal and, while it may not be fully realized by the end of this year, it is undoubtedly getting closer.