Tesla’s software timeline to fully autonomous driving on its new Autopilot hardware can be somewhat complicated. There’s ‘Enhanced Autopilot’, which in itself offers several different features, and there’s ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’, which despite its name will not enable self-driving for a while, but could still be useful to Tesla drivers very soon.
CEO Elon Musk clarified the timeline last night.
Previously, our best understanding was the introduction of ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ in December 2016, which was late since Tesla only started pushing it last weeked, followed by updates every few weeks or months leading to a demonstration of the fully self-driving capability toward the end of 2017.
Then the feature would be available to certain Tesla owners based on validation and regulatory approval in different jurisdictions. For example, Michigan already introduced a law that would make such a self-driving system available to the public after passing a test.
But at the moment, Tesla sells separately the ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. The former might sound useless until the “end of 2017” at best and while you can save a few dollars by buying it when ordering since Tesla charges a premium for activating the feature after delivery, you actually have other advantages by buying the feature before Tesla achieves a reliable self-driving system.
While all Tesla vehicles are now equipped with the same 8-camera, 1 radar, and 360-degree ultrasonics hardware suite, Tesla only enables half the cameras for ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ and the rest when buyers choose ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. The company writes on its order page:
Build upon Enhanced Autopilot and order Full Self-Driving Capability on your Tesla. This doubles the number of active cameras from four to eight, enabling full self-driving in almost all circumstances, at what we believe will be a probability of safety at least twice as good as the average human driver.
Therefore, drivers should notice a difference between the two options even before Tesla can truly introduce a level 5 autonomous system in the vehicle.
It’s not the case currently since Tesla just now started pushing the “first phase” of Enhanced Autopilot and it’s not quite to parity with the first generation of the system. But as it improves with more data from the fleet, owners who chose ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ on top of just Enhanced Autopilot will start to see a difference at some point by making full use of all the hardware.
Musk has now disclosed that he expects that point to be within 3 to 6 months.
While Enhanced Autopilot has been a little late, that’s still significantly before the full self-driving feature planned for the end of 2017.
The difference should be noticeable for new Autopilot features like Autosteer+ and On-ramp to Off-ramp, but especially for something like the new ‘Smart Summon’, which is the closest thing to a truly “driverless” car feature since there can literally be no one in the car. A feature like that, while available with ‘Enhanced Autopilot’, could really benefit from more camera coverage on’Full Self-Driving Capability’.
In the meantime, Tesla is still focusing on the first phase of Enhanced Autopilot and to get the Auto steer, TACC and other features first introduced on the last generation Autopilot, to work right on the new hardware using Tesla’s new in-house image processing system: Tesla Vision.