Any day now

October 13th, 2020

Checking in on an earlier post from last year on being skeptical on the whole self-driving cars thing, I got reminded of this article from last April and the quote from Elon Musk:

As for full autonomy, Musk noted: “the software problem should not be minimized.” He continued that, “it’s a very difficult software problem.” Still, he promised that Teslas will be capable of self-driving by the end of this year and self-driving robo-taxis will be on the road in 2020. Also, in two years, the company will be making cars without steering wheels or pedals at all.

“If you fast forward a year, maybe a year three months, we’ll have over a million robo-taxis on the road.”

Usually futurists give themselves a bit more breathing room, say 25-30 years. By which time they are either no longer with us, or can claim to have been let down by the inept technologists who have failed to deliver on their “vision”. In this particular case though, Tesla is barely struggling to get to level 2 which is basic, partial automation. We’re quite a long way off from a million robo-taxis on the road.

In the meanwhile, Tesla’s official page on autopilot is using some clever wording that makes it seem that they are already at full self driving level 5 (highlights mine):

All new Tesla cars have the hardware needed in the future for full self-driving in almost all circumstances. The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat.

All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed. When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you.

Sprinkle a few “will”s in there, and you make it sound like it’s yours once you buy one of their cars. While the press kit is a bit more realistic, bringing it down quite a few notches (highlights mine):

Autopilot is an advanced driver assistance system that is classified as a Level 2 automated system according to SAE J3016, which is endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This means Autopilot also helps with driver supervision. One of our main motivations for Autopilot is to help increase road safety, and it’s this philosophy that drives our development, validation, and rollout decisions.

Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time. While Autopilot is designed to become more capable over time, in its current form, it is not a self-driving system, it does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle, and it does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.

So maybe, at some point in the future, it “will” be there. But not any day now, despite the ongoing barrage of lofty promises.