After Promises, Elon Musk Admits Autonomous Cars a “Tough Problem” | Car

Elon Musk has been promising a dazzling future for his Tesla electric cars: they will be able to drive alone from Los Angeles to New York, even with no one behind the wheel; and they will even serve as robotáxis to make money for their owners. All of this would be possible when buying a kit that costs up to $10,000 more than the price of the vehicle. Now, the CEO finally recognizes that autonomous driving is a “difficult problem”.


Elon Musk (Image: Peter Tsai/Flickr)

What is Tesla’s Full-Self Driving (FSD)?

On the official Full-Self Driving (FSD) page, Tesla explains that so far none of its cars are fully autonomous. However, customers can prepare for this by purchasing FSD Computer, “capable of providing intelligent performance and control to enable a new level of security and autonomy”. This utilizes the vehicle’s built-in radar, sensors and cameras.

The FSD Computer costs $10,000 and requires a Model S, Model X, or Model 3, which prices start at $34,000 (considering benefits for US electric cars). In the future, it must be offered on a monthly subscription basis.

Full-Self Driving went into beta last year, but it still has a lot to evolve – it is far from autonomous driving, contrary to what the name might indicate. In March of this year, a driver tested the FSD in version 8.2 on a Model 3: the system made a series of mistakes, violating some traffic laws and almost crashing into another car.

Elon Musk has been promising Tesla autonomous car for years

The FSD launch turned out to be a recurring joke among Tesla vehicle owners because Musk always promises to deliver it soon and never meets the deadline – to the point where a customer changes the car’s name via the app to “Two Weeks”.

On Twitter, Musk gave this answer to the customer:

Haha, FSD 9 beta will be out soon, I promise! Generalized autonomous driving is a difficult problem, as it requires solving much of the real-world AI. I didn’t expect it to be so difficult, but the difficulty is obvious in hindsight. Nothing has more degrees of freedom than reality.

The “degrees of freedom” mentioned by Musk basically mean that there are a lot of variables to be taken into account by artificial intelligence.

Tesla's car interior (Image: Publicity)

Tesla’s car interior (Image: Publicity)

However, for many years Musk was confident that autonomous cars would arrive very soon. Check out the retrospective:

  • March 2015: Musk says that the artificial intelligence of autonomous cars “is much easier than people think… I almost see it as a solved problem.
  • December 2015: Elon Musk predicts “complete autonomy” in Tesla cars until 2018
  • January 2016: Musk guarantees that in about two years (until the end of 2017), Tesla vehicles will be able to drive alone between two cities connected by land and without barriers along the way, “for example if you are in Los Angeles and the car is in New York”
  • October 2016: Tesla promises to demonstrate complete autonomy until the end of 2017
  • April 2017: Musk predicts that in about two years (until 2019), drivers can sleep while the vehicle is driving alone;
  • November 2018: Tesla sets deadline to demonstrate full autonomy at the end of 2019
  • February 2019: Musk repeats promise that FSD would be “full resourced” until the end of 2019, saying that “the car will be able to meet you in a parking lot, pick you up and take you to the destination without any intervention” from the user
  • April 2019: Musk claims that Tesla Model 3 could be used as a “robotáxi”, making money for owners by autonomously transporting passengers; the plan was to have 1 million robot taxis on the streets until 2020
  • January 2020: Musk says FSD software will be “full-featured” by the end of 2020, explaining that this “just means there is some chance of being able to get from home to work without intervention”, but with the caveat that this “does not mean the features will work well”
  • October 2020: Tesla releases FSD beta to a small group of users in the US, saying testing will be “extremely slow and careful”
  • January 2021: Musk promises that Tesla will provide full autonomy (level 5) by the end of 2021

Will it go now? Of course, the FSD had better take even longer if it means more safety for drivers, but Musk needs to make that clear. This year, Tesla admitted to the California Department of Motor Vehicles that it does not expect significant advances from the FSD for 2021, even with beta testing.

With information: The Verge.

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