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Tesla Engineer Tells the California DMV That Elon Musk's Goal of Achieving Full Self-Driving by the End of 2021 Does Not ‘Match Engineering Reality'

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【Summary】During a Tesla earnings call in January, Musk said that he was "highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year." But Musk’s tweet does not reflect that of Tesla’s own Autopilot engineers, a new memo confirms. After an early March conference call with Tesla representatives and the California DMV, Tesla Autopilot engineer CJ Moore wrote in a memo that "Elon's tweet does not match engineering reality.”

FutureCar Staff    May 07, 2021 3:30 PM PT
Tesla Engineer Tells the California DMV That Elon Musk's Goal of Achieving Full Self-Driving by the End of 2021 Does Not ‘Match Engineering Reality'

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in the past that its Autopilot autonomous driving feature is ten times better that a human driver. While that statement is debatable, the reality is that Tesla's Autopilot is considered to be what the SAE International and Tesla's own engineers call a Level 2 system, which places the technology on equal footing with automated driving systems from other automakers, such as General Motors' Super Cruise.

Now that Tesla is rolling out the beta version of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) feature, its likely that Tesla won't reach its goal of delivering fully-autonomous systems by the end of the year that can drive on city streets, which Musk said earlier this year.

During a Tesla earnings call in January, Musk said that he was "highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year." But Musk's tweet does not reflect that of Tesla's own Autopilot engineers, new documents confirm.

As reported by Reuters, after an early March conference call with Tesla representatives and the California DMV, Tesla Autopilot engineer CJ Moore wrote in a memo that "Elon's tweet does not match engineering reality." 

"Tesla indicated that they are still firmly in L2," California DMV wrote afterwards in a memo about its meeting with Tesla representatives. "As Tesla is aware, the public's misunderstanding about the limits of the technology and its misuse can have tragic consequences."

The memo was released by legal transparency group PlainSite, which obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn't say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by the end of the calendar year," the DMV memo said, referring to level 5 full autonomous driving capability. 

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, (SAE) Level 2 autonomous driving technology, which Tesla's Autopilot is, requires human supervision at all times without exceptions, meaning that a human must monitor the operation of the vehicle while using Autopilot.

Level 5 autonomous systems, which have yet to be achieved by the industry, requires no human supervision at all. A true level 5 autonomoous vehicle would not even require a steering wheel or pedals for human control.

The California DMV tracks the progress of companies testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in the state. Before a company can test the technology on public roads, that must apply for a permit from the DMV.

Companies must then track how often their vehicles disengage from autonomous mode and report whether that disengagement is the result of technology failure or in situations requiring the test driver to take manual control of the vehicle to operate safely, such as a construction zone. That data must be retained and reported to the DMV at the beginning of each year. 

Tesla began rolling out the beta version of its "Full Self-Driving" (FSD) to employees and select vehicle owners in its Early Access Program in Oct 2020. The FSD update extends Autopilot capabilities to work on city streets and local roads.

The early access program is being used as a test platform so Tesla can make improvements to the software before it rolls out to more Tesla owners via an over-the-air software update. 

In the DMV memo, Tesla said that as of March 9, 2021 it had 824 vehicles in the pilot program, including 753 employees and 71 non-employees.

The extra scrutiny for Tesla's autonomous driving claims come after numerous accidents involving Autopilot resulting in fatalities in some cases. Federal highway safety regulators are currently investigating more than 20 accidents involving Tesla vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was closely watching Tesla's latest FSD software and said it was standing by and ready to protect the public against safety risks.

NHTSA said in July 2020 that its special crash investigation team had "looked into 19 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed some form of advanced driver assistance system was engaged at the time of the incident."



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