Tesla sells fully autonomous, self-driving vehicles. But what is it really?

Tesla sells fully autonomous, self-driving vehicles. But what is it really?

For years, Tesla has distinguished itself from other carmakers by focusing on building electric cars. Not only that, but they have also been striving their best to develop software and technology for creating the world’s first, fully autonomous self-driving cars. Tesla claims that all the hardware of the cars it develops are fully autonomous which eventually makes it capable of driving itself through over-the-air software updates which is available at a premium.

The full self-driving capability is accessible at an additional cost to its owners for as much as $10,000. But the big question here is, do all the features of the full self-driving package work as promised or advertised? Let’s delve in.

Tesla’s active driving assistance systems are split into two parts- autopilot, which includes adaptive cruise control & lane keeping capabilities & FSD suite, which includes navigating on Autopilot, Auto lane change, Auto park, summon that helps find your car anywhere in the parking lot, traffic light & stop sign control.

Features like Auto lane change, Summon & Autopilot works as claimed. But having said that, there are some significant concerns with the newer features of the full self-driving package.

US investigators have escalated their scrutiny for Tesla’s driver-assistance technology after a string of crashes, owing to the feature. Customers have also complained that the driver-assistance option which was purchased at a premium doesn’t operate as advertised. Critics have claimed that FSD hasn’t quite lived up to its name ever since its debut more than two years ago.

Joel Young, a car enthusiast by passion and a writer and lawyer by profession from Placitas, New Mexico, paid $6000 for FSD in 2019, assuming of receiving a system that could drive anywhere by itself, by year’s end. But to his dismay, two years down the line and the system remains beyond its abilities.

Having failed to meet the expectations as promised by Tesla, he demanded a refund from the carmaker, just to receive a denial for the same. Owing to the unfulfilled expectations and rejection of refund money, Young sued the company for fraud and breach of contract, among the other complaints filed by him. He is the second customer to file suit for this FSD add-on feature, after the two Southern Californian brothers. Many social media enthusiasts have questioned on social media platforms like Reddit, as to whether they have paid for something that doesn’t exist?

Democrats, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut & Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both sent a letter to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission for the agency to investigate the marketing & advertising of Autopilot & FSD.

Although, Tesla has privately acknowledged limitations in the technology and has gone on public records stating that the company is unlikely to offer technology that can drive in any situation by itself until the end of 2021; yet it remained unavailable to comment on several other requests.

Automation surely has a downside of overreliance on technology & complaints of FSD kit may pale in comparison to concerns of people being killed by the misuse of or glitches of Tesla’s driver-assistance technology, reason enough that other automakers are more conservative when it comes to automation, eg: General Motors & Toyota offer driver assistance technologies akin to Autopilot & FSD, without marketing them as self-driving systems.

Many automakers & tech giants like Argo, Cruise & Waymo are backed by billions of dollars for developing & testing autonomous vehicles, with little or no intention of selling them to the consumers in near future. Considering the hurdles and planning needed for a fully functional autonomous vehicle, Chris Urmson, The Chief Executive of Autonomous Vehicle Company Aurora said that the rollout could take 30 years or more.

Tesla autonomous/self-driving
Tesla autonomous/self-driving

Elon Musk is taking a very difficult track with Tesla, with the belief that self-driving cars can navigate city streets without 3D maps. He believes that like human needs only eyes to navigate through, autonomous vehicles he argued, understands their surroundings by cameras, the only form of sensors needed. He continues arguing that since Tesla cars are already equipped with cameras, they can be transformed into autonomous by gradually improving the software that analyzes and responds to what the camera sees & FD is a step towards that.

This confident promise rests on “beta” service which is currently under test with a limited number of Tesla owners, aiming at automating driving beyond highways. On an estimation made by Musk in March this year, about 2,000 people were using beta, called “Autosteer on city streets” which unlike FSD & Autopilot, calls for drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, taking charge of the vehicle when needed.

Experts like Schuyler Cullen, a computer vision specialist at South Korean tech giant Samsung have been noted saying that the speed of cameras and the limitations in algorithms analyzing camera images will prohibit changing the scenario soon, as it can’t react quickly enough to avoid crashes in certain situations.

With Tesla removing the radars from its cars, it had the opportunity to remove cost, but that doesn’t mean that it can reach full autonomy solely with cameras. It needs to do it safe & reliable technology which doesn’t yet exist.