Musk’s fully autonomous Tesla car claim does not match reality, report says

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Tesla’s current autopilot options offer features to help the driver, but they have not reached a stage where the vehicles are autonomous.

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Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared his plan to offer vehicles capable of Level 5 (L5) autonomy by the end of 2021. But, according to a memo released by legal data transparency website PlainSite, the timeline to deliver a fully autonomous Tesla vehicle may not happen this year.

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The memo referred to remarks made by Tesla’s Autopilot software chief C.J. Moore in a call with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It noted that “Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ [Moore]. Tesla is at Level 2 currently.”

Tesla has been developing its advanced autopilot option for some time now. It launched full self-driving (FSD) in a limited beta in October for a small number of “expert & careful drivers”, and has since expanded its FSD beta programme.

The EV maker’s pilot programme is run by 753 employees and 71 contractors, and has 824 vehicles, as of March 9, 2021. Pilot participants across 37 states in the U.S. have driven nearly 2.5 lakh km (1,53,000 miles) using ‘City Streets’ feature, which according to Tesla, is a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 2 advanced driver-assist feature.

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“The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation,” the DMV memo noted, adding, “Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities.”

In January, during the fourth-quarter earnings call, Musk said he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year.”

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According to DMV’s memo, Tesla could not say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of the calendar year.

Also Read | Tesla’s full self-driving option falls short of its claim, report says

An L5 vehicle’s features can drive the vehicle under all conditions, whereas, an L2 vehicle’s features can provide steering and brake/acceleration support to the driver, according to SAE. Moreover, an individual seated at the driver’s seat won’t be driving the car when automated driving features are engaged in an L5 vehicle.

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Tesla’s current autopilot options offer features to help the driver, but they have not reached a stage where the vehicles are autonomous. Also, Tesla asks drivers to be fully attentive, and to place their hands on the wheel to take over at any moment.

Also Read | Tesla to recall 135,000 U.S. vehicles under pressure from auto safety regulators

The EV’s Autopilot features have come under scrutiny after a 2019 Tesla Model S crashed on April 17 near Spring, Texas. According to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report, the Model S P100D car was equipped with Autopilot.

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