Tesla has been marketing Autopilot functions and Full Self Driving options for nearly five years now and they still have more unfulfilled promises than they have delivered on.  As we move into 2020, Elon Musk, the famous Tesla CEO has stated clearly that the FSD will be feature complete. Elon would have better knowledge of the status of the program now that Musk has taken a personal position in the self-driving division. Elon’s moving into a larger role was potentially needed given the consistent turnover at high up positions in the Autopilot program.

 

Autopilot on the Tesla cars is branded (and pitched by Elon) as an eventual solution for Autonomous vehicles and true automatic driving.  The Status of the Feature set as it stands though is clearly nowhere near a fully self-driving car. The cars features do allow the driver to remove their feet off the pedal managing the distance of the cars in front of you, as well as take over steering duties to the point where drivers merely have to touch the steering wheel every 10 seconds or so, this is a safety precaution given that the cars feature set really is at best a driver-assist system and not a true autopilot.

Illustation showing Tesla camera angles

This is the Camera ranges and system for the Tesla Autopilot offering.

 

Musk and Tesla have been criticized for taking a full camera-based approach to the full self-driving problem.  Almost all competitors who are investing in the autonomous driving field are using a mixture of cameras and Lidar (which is a form of Land-based radar).  Musk claims that adding a second or even more appendages makes the computational problem even more complicated. The argument gets even more clear when they talk about the affordability of cameras vs how expensive Lidar systems are.  The other major argument is that driving is currently based on a visual feedback system and that an automatic system should only need to depend on visuals for assistance.

 

The Autopilot when it can see is impressive, with solid road lines and good weather conditions the car drives similar to something that feels a lot like an autonomous vehicle so the confusion for many people is understandable.  This middle ground between advertising and a system that is close to being safe and capable but isn’t ready yet could spell potential disaster for drivers that get lulled into believing that the car can truly drive itself.

 

No matter what you think about the current Autopilot system, Tesla has placed a big bet on the FSD division to come through and fully deliver an autonomous vehicle.  Only time will tell if the data collecting headstart that the Tesla active cars have on the road will help them move out in front of the competition.