- Tesla CEO Elon Musk reveals that Full Self-Driving Beta is available to Tesla owners who request it, ending an earlier period of smaller scale testing on public roads.
- The company's so-called Full Self-Driving Beta is one of several driver-assist systems the company offers.
- The system is still considered to be SAE Level 2, according to statements Tesla engineers made to California regulators over a year ago.
Tesla is offering its so-called Full Self-Driving Beta driver-assist system to any owner who has paid for it and whose car has the necessary hardware installed, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced days ago after months of Beta testing and controversy as well as a fair share of viral videos of the system attempting various maneuvers in traffic, some of them more successful than others.
Some Tesla owners have had access to FSD Beta for about a year at this point, initially a small pool of users who were mostly employees. The availability of the system was opened up further when Tesla instituted a built-in driving test on which one had to achieve a passing score to get access to FSD Beta. Since that time thousands of drivers have begun using it, or rather Beta-testing it on themselves and other road users, with the system's price now sitting at $15,000.
But whether the system actually delivers what one considers to be "full self-driving"—admittedly a somewhat subjective standard—is another matter.
Tesla engineers admitted to California regulators over a year ago that FSD is not meant to exceed the capabilities of SAE Level 2, requiring constant driver attention at all times and hands on the steering wheel.
"Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous," Tesla says.
By contrast, Level 3 systems being rolled out in several markets at the moment do not require constant driver attention on the road or hands on the steering wheel, allowing drivers to read or text, while Level 4 systems are seeing small-scale debuts with no one behind the wheel at all.
Musk has not made any concrete statements regarding the system's possible progression to a Level 3, eyes-off capability that would allow drivers to be less attentive for minutes or hours at a time.
"If you can't read or text, then what's the point of this system, and why is it called Full Self-Driving? If you can't take your eyes off the road for $15,000, what's the point?" one EV owner told Autoweek.
Tesla's Autopilot driver-assist system has recently drawn the attention of US regulators after a number of high-profile crashes into the backs of first responder vehicles, such as fire trucks, which the system has at times failed to detect in its path.
In prior years, US regulators have taken a very liberal approach to Autopilot as well as FSD, until the former sparked a NHTSA investigation into the crashes with first responder vehicles.
A current Department of Justice probe, first reported last month, represents a wider investigation into Tesla's claims regarding its separate, but related Autopilot system.
Musk, for his part, said earlier this year he "would be surprised" if Full Self-Driving was not solved by the end of 2022.
Of course, Musk has also not been clear regarding just how he pictures FSD Beta working as intended, failing to specify which SAE level the system is intended to achieve. So the intended target of FSD functionality remains very loose.
For example, if a system that's called Full Self-Driving requires one to pay attention to the road at all times, then what would a Level 4 system that does not require a driver be termed?
This question will perhaps be answered by the DoJ in its probe of Tesla's marketing of its somewhat overlapping driver-assist systems.