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    What is Tesla FSD Full Autonomous Driving Potential?

    Jun 24,2022 | Chloe Lacour

    The Full Autonomous Driving Potential option is a software package that Tesla sells for all vehicles with at least Autopilot 2 hardware. The option is also called Tesla FSD for short because it means “Full Self Driving” in English.

    This article describes the current development status of the range of functions and is intended to help you find out whether it makes sense to buy FSD for yourself or whether the "Basic Autopilot" or the "Enhanced Autopilot (EAP)" is sufficient for your own needs. A Tesla vehicle with the hardware equipment “Autopilot 2”, “Autopilot 2.5” or “FSD Computer” is required to be able to buy “Full Potential for Autonomous Driving”. I explain the differences between the different Autopilot versions in this linked article.

    What exactly does autonomous driving mean at Tesla?

    Autonomous driving is divided into the following development steps by the car manufacturers of all brands:

    • Level 1: assisted driving
    • Level 2: partially automated driving
    • Level 3: automated driving
    • Level 4: fully automated driving
    • Level 5: autonomous driving

    The differences and what skills a vehicle must have at these different levels are explained in more detail in this article.

    The idea behind Tesla's FSD software: At some point in the future, due to the constant further development of the autopilot software, the vehicle will be able to drive completely autonomously by a computer (level 5). That means it no longer needs a human driver. Not even one monitors the vehicle and only intervenes in an emergency. As this system is being developed, Tesla will gradually release new features as part of the FSD option that is not unlocked under normal Autopilot and EAP. For example, since the summer of 2020, automatic stopping/starting at traffic lights and stop signs have been added.

    Which Tesla vehicles have the option for autonomous driving?

    The FSD function can only be purchased for vehicles with at least Autopilot Hardware AP2. However, most functions require the AP3 "FSD Computer". Older Tesla vehicles with an AP2 or AP2.5 computer are therefore also upgraded to the “FSD computer” when they purchase the “Full Potential for Autonomous Driving”. The price of the computer is included in the price of the FSD. Which autopilot computer version is installed in a Tesla can be displayed in the vehicle settings:

    Click on the vehicle icon on the screen. "Additional vehicle information" is displayed under "Software". There is also a reference to the built-in autopilot hardware. If it says "computer for autonomous driving", it is the "FSD computer" (colloquially also called AP3).

    Incidentally, for Model S and X manufactured before September 2017, an additional camera upgrade is required for FSD to work in the future. This upgrade is free of charge or included in the price for FSD.

    How does FSD work technically?

    Not only Tesla but also other companies have been working on developing autonomous driving for cars for years. In California, regulatory laws are relatively lax in this regard. Companies have been able to apply for a license for driverless vehicles on the road since 2018, and as of May 2020, 66 companies already had such a permit. The best-known representative is probably the Google subsidiary Waymo, which, thanks to high-resolution map material and the use of LiDAR sensors, already delivered considerable results in autonomous driving, at least in clearly defined areas of some American cities.

    Tesla is taking a different approach here. Most of the competitors' vehicles are equipped with the so-called LiDAR in addition to radar. LiDAR is sensors that use laser pulses to create a three-dimensional image of the environment, which the computer in the vehicle uses to recognize its surroundings and steer the vehicle accordingly. However, Elon Musk is of the opinion that a LiDAR is not necessary and that vehicles can only drive autonomously by using image recognition via cameras and without high-resolution maps created in advance.

    Originally, Tesla's autopilot system was based on cameras and radar, but no lidar. Since May 2021, the radar has even been completely omitted from the newer Model 3 and Y. And since mid-February 2022, the Model S and X are no longer produced with radar in the USA.

    In Europe, too, Tesla will omit the radar from Q2/22 on new Model 3 and Y cars.

    In Europe, too, Tesla will omit the radar from Q2/22 on new Model 3 and Y cars.

    It remains to be seen whether Tesla will ultimately be able to achieve level 5 autonomous driving with this equipment.

    Overview of the cameras of a Tesla with at least AP2 autopilot hardware The radar has been omitted from newer vehicles since May 2021. Image source: Tesla

    The benefit of Tesla's approach is already clear. With thousands of vehicles on the road, Tesla has a vast amount of data that can be used for computer simulations. Because all vehicles that are equipped with cameras, and these are all Teslas that have been sold since October 2016, also deliver image and sensor data when the car is not driving in autopilot mode. Thanks to this huge fleet of "test vehicles", Tesla can continuously improve its autopilot software and test innovations in simulations in a real environment in different countries around the world. To do this, Tesla runs a simulation of its software currently being tested in the background, as a shadow copy, but uses the real sensor data from a real trip as a parameter. The software that has been improved in this way will then be redistributed to the vehicles in the next update.

    So not every single car learns for itself, but the whole system learns from the "experience" and driving situations of the cars. In comparison, Waymo, for example, is limited to the American streets and clearly defined neighborhoods that have been mapped and where Waymo vehicles are allowed to travel.

    From a technical point of view, the computers in the vehicles of all manufacturers work with software for so-called neural networks. Put simply, it is about pattern recognition and machine learning using artificial intelligence (AI). A neural network is continually “trained” with real-world data and thus improves more and more. So if Tesla wants to improve driving in the tunnel using autopilot, for example, it trains its AI with the sensor information from real tunnel drives from what are now 1.2 million customer vehicles (as of October 2020). The improvements are then uploaded back to the fleet by means of software updates, and in this way, the behavior of the autopilot is perfected step by step with each run, even if the vehicles are not necessarily in autopilot mode.

    An interesting video that goes deep technically is this English lecture by Andrej Karpathy, Director of Artificial Intelligence and Autopilot Vision at Tesla.

    Support from the Dojo supercomputer

    In spring 2019, Elon Musk first mentioned a self-developed AI training computer called Dojo. This is not a computer for the vehicle, but a central supercomputer that Tesla wants to use to evaluate the huge amounts of video data. A total of 3,000 highly specialized AI chips are built for the massive computing power of up to 1.8 exaflop. Regular operation of the dojo is scheduled to begin in 2022. The following video comes from "Tesla AI Day", which revolves around the topic of artificial intelligence, the supercomputer dojo, and autonomous driving. It's a deep dive for those who are more interested in the topic from a technical point of view:

    What is the current functionality of Tesla FSD?

    Many people who are not concerned with this topic still cannot believe that autonomously driving cars should be possible at all. But development is progressing in giant strides. Regular motorway driving with automatic lane changes, in which the driver only briefly taps the turn signal and does nothing else at all, has been part of everyday life for many Tesla drivers (and other brands too) for a long time. Accelerating, staying in lane, steering, and braking are also things that now work really well. More and more additional functions are gradually being added. Of course, the USA is always a few steps ahead of us here, as the regulatory laws in Europe do not offer the same relaxed conditions and many functions have to be approved first. Unfortunately, Europe is taking a much tougher approach here, showing the limitations of the UN/ECE autopilot in Europe.

    In the course of 2020, new things were also added in Europe with the automatic stop/start function at traffic lights and stop signs and the speed detection of traffic signs (not on motorways). Nevertheless, one should be aware that these functions are also relatively new and do not work perfectly in every situation. A lot of things at Tesla take time and a lot of rework to work really well and reliably. Also, with these latest additions to FSD functionality, regulatory constraints in Europe are again evident. For example, vehicles are not allowed to approach the traffic lights completely autonomously. If the traffic light switches to green, only a signal tone sounds to draw the driver's attention to this. In the USA, the car will automatically drive off on green in autopilot mode.

    You can also see these limitations in the way Tesla is currently developing the system. Because that's easiest to do regulatory in the USA. The autopilot development status for the rest of the world was practically frozen from around the end of 2019. Since then, not a lot has happened outside of the USA. Ok, we got the traffic light stop/start automatic and the speed detection. But these functions don't really work that well yet. Tesla is therefore now limited to the development of the "FSD Beta" in the USA, which allows the vehicle to drive completely autonomously. So also roundabouts, turning off at a junction, overtaking, etc. Presumably, you want to show that it works. And thereby get the other countries to allow the system as well. This is much easier than developing for all markets and letting the development slow down because the countries only allow limited and artificially limited autopilot driving behavior.

    In October 2020, the "Full Self Driving Beta" was initially only activated for a small group of customers in the USA. It offers a foretaste of what will hopefully soon be possible in Europe as well. This unfinished preliminary version includes functions such as automatic driving in urban areas including roundabouts and automatic turning. The Tesla Autopilot is therefore no longer a driver assistance system but is intended to reach “Level 4: fully automated driving” in the first phase, which of course still requires human monitoring.

    In the development of the autopilot, it is definitely a gigantic step that Tesla is making here and the FSD beta videos from the USA are already looking interesting. However, the range of experiences is enormous. The autopilot also seems to master demanding situations in inner-city traffic perfectly. But only partially. In some situations, the FSD Beta fails completely and without driver intervention an accident would occur. A few interesting insights into this in the following video:

    And of course, there have been accidents. For example this one:

    The software is just what it's called: beta. Tesla still has a lot to do. Supposedly, the FSD beta software will also be released in Europe in 2022, which I would be happy about, but I can't imagine that at the moment. The European authorities will hardly accept such a software status.

    Should you buy FSD now or rather wait?

    This is a question on which opinions differ. Many are of the opinion that the FSD functions will not be approved in Europe for many years. Step by step, however, it turns out that something is also happening in Europe with regard to FSD functions, albeit mostly only to a limited extent. For example, the automatic lane change on freeways in the USA works fully automatically and without the driver having to do anything as soon as the vehicle decides to change lanes. In Europe, you still have to tap the indicator briefly to trigger a lane change and then shake the steering wheel briefly. The lane change then happens automatically. This already shows that a higher degree of automation in Europe still faces major legal hurdles. Autonomy, i.e. the independent making of decisions by the vehicle, is not permitted in Europe today. Even Elon Musk seems to have become more cautious with his statements, as in October 2019 he promised one million fully autonomous Tesla robotaxis by the end of 2020.

    Two years later, his statements seem much more reserved:

    Elon Musk: "Autonomous driving with autopilot is almost guaranteed, the only question is when."

    And we're talking about two different things here:

    When is the software version usable and the car drives so safely in every situation that it no longer needs to be supervised?

    When it is approved by the authorities that such a vehicle MUST no longer be supervised by the driver.

    An important consideration when buying FSD is of course the price. The FSD option becomes more and more expensive as the range of functions increases. Elon Musk also communicated this and in the past, despite a few short phases when there were still discounts, you could see that the price kept rising. This is the history of FSD price increases:

    As of October 2016, FSD was offered at a special price of $3000 when purchased with a new vehicle. If you wanted to buy the software later, you had to pay 4000 USD. Mind you: the software had no additional use at that time. In a way, it was an investment in the future.
    As of late June 2018, Tesla increased the price of FSD orders to $5000.
    In May 2019, the price was increased to $6000.
    As of July 2020, Tesla raised the price to $7500 and shortly thereafter to $8000.
    In the USA, with the release of the FSD Beta in October 2020, the price even rose to USD 10,000. It has been announced that each country will also have its cost increased to this price one week after the release of the FSD Beta. Since FSD was also available as a "special offer" from time to time, one can of course speculate that it will be cheaper again. However, such promotions served to increase sales towards the end of the quarter and were usually only available for a short period of time. It is uncertain whether this will happen again in the future and Tesla currently has so much money on the high edge that they will probably no longer need this end-of-quarter boost. Hoping for FSD rebates is unlikely to work.

    For vehicles with the extended autopilot option "enhanced autopilot functionality", also called "enhanced autopilot" (EAP), the surcharge for FSD is slightly cheaper.

    Can an FSD package, once purchased, be transferred to a new vehicle?
    No, unfortunately not. FSD stays on the vehicle it was purchased for. It is always sold with a private sale of the vehicle. However, when a car is sold to Tesla, the vehicle loses the FSD function. Another aspect to consider when purchasing FSD is the subscription. The FSD subscription costs $200 per month. Depending on the planned duration of use, for example for a holiday, it may be worth just subscribing to FSD. Unfortunately, the subscription is not yet available in Europe.

    How can I buy Tesla FSD?

    In the configurator on Tesla.com, when ordering the vehicle, you can tick the “Full potential for autonomous driving” option. For vehicles that have already been delivered, the option is displayed in the Tesla mobile phone app under "Upgrades" as "Autonomous driving". The option can also be purchased directly in the app using the credit card stored in the Tesla.com user account. After a few hours, the option will then be active in the car (indicated by a message on the screen).

    My conclusion on the Tesla FSD

    For me as a technology enthusiast, FSD is of course a must. I bought it at the beginning of 2019 when it was offered cheaper again. In November 2020, my Model S was then upgraded to the "FSD Computer". Admittedly, these FSD functions don't really bring much to everyday life in Europe. They're just too limited for that. I don't want to do without the automatic lane change, but I would have it with the cheaper "Enhanced Autopilot" (EAP).

    But since I don't plan to sell my vehicle in the next few years, I think it was the right decision. If I had a leased vehicle, I probably would never have bought FSD, since it is definitely not worth it when you have to replace the car after a few years anyway. If you want to keep the car for less than 3 years, I strongly advise against buying FSD.

    Ultimately, however, there is much more behind the whole thing than just improving driver assistance systems. Autonomous driving level 5 will eventually change the world and there will be completely different possibilities for the transport of goods and the way we travel.

    This summary of "Tesla Autonomy Day" 2019 shows that impressively.

    However, one must also be aware that there is still a very long way to go to level 5. It is precisely the exceptional situations that make it so complex. And unfortunately, after several years of FSD development, there are still situations in which the autopilot delivers a really miserable result. This video from March 2021 shows a vivid example:

    In short, if you keep the vehicle for a long time, are technically enthusiastic, and invest in the future, you can probably buy FSD today at a lower price than in the future. However, there is still a certain residual risk that you will not have the car for that long in the end (e.g. an accident with a total loss). There is also a risk that there will be some hardware adjustments in newer Teslas in the future that will not make autonomous driving in a car that is several hundred years old possible in the same way as in a newer model. It's even very likely. For example, who knows if the “FSD Computer” (AP3) will really be enough? And if not, who guarantees that Tesla will give the older cars another upgrade from AP3 to AP4? The AP4 computer is already in development. Perhaps an upgrade will not be technically possible.

    It is and remains a big financial risk to buy FSD now and not want to use it for Level 5 in an old car for a few years. I assume that with my Model S from 2017 a maximum of Level 4 will be possible.

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