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Tesla’s software timeline for ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ transition means ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ as early as next year


There seems to be some confusion over the timeline of the rollout of the new ‘Enhanced Autopilot capabilities’ (Level 3/4) and ‘Fully Self-Driving’ (Level 5) capability of Tesla’s new hardware suite. I tried to gather everything we know into one post in order to get a clear picture of what the company is guiding in term of software updates on the new hardware suite.

Tesla believes that it figured out the hardware necessary to enable fully self-driving cars and that the technology is now a software problem. Therefore, the automaker is now pushing to solve the problem and doing so with the most aggressive timeline in the industry:

In “2 to 3 months from now”, Tesla expects that the new software validation for the Autopilot features on the new hardware will be completed and that performance should come to parity with the features on the current/previous version of the hardware V1 suite. At that point, with the continuously improving system, the ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ option will start to become better than the last ‘Autopilot Convenience Features’ version.

We are talking about the Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC), Autosteer on highways, Autopark and the ‘Summon’ feature.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects that every “2 to 3 months” thereafter the company will release software updates with more significant improvements.

These improvements will enable the new ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ features like ‘On-ramp to Off-ramp’, which sounds like a complete level 3 autonomy on the freeway, Autosteer+, which enables Autosteer in “more complex roads”, and ‘Smart Summon’, which is obviously a smarter ‘Summon’ feature and like Autosteer+, which can handle more complex environments.

Then there’s ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. It will come significantly later, but you save $1,000 by buying it when you order the car instead of just having Tesla activate it when it becomes available through software update. Additionally, Tesla activates more cameras to improve the other features when buying the option, which is $3,000 more expensive than ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ for a total of an $8,000 option.

Musk expects that it will come by the end of 2017 which will coincide with the 1st deliveries of the Model 3:

“I feel pretty good about the goal of a demonstration drive of full autonomy all the way from LA to New York. Basically from a home in LA to – let’s say – dropping you off in Time Square in New York and then having the car park itself by the end of next year.”

Several people have attempted similar trips with the latest version of the Autopilot and achieved roughly 90% autonomy since most of the driving is on highways, but Musk is talking about 100% autonomous from LA to NY with no input from people in the car.

He clarified:

“Without the need for a single touch, including the charger.”

He is talking about adding “automatic charge connection capability” to some Supercharger stations in order to enable coast-to-coast trips without having to manage the charging process. It will also enable Tesla vehicles without anyone in them to charge and travel greater distances when summoned.

Something similar to this robot snake charger is expected to be added to some Supercharger station:

Now while Musk expects that the demonstration of a fully self-driving car with the current hardware being installed in all new Teslas will happen by the end of next year, it doesn’t mean that the update will be pushed to the vehicles.

It is highly dependent on regulatory approval, which in turn is dependent on jurisdictions. Tesla plans to push the update based on locations as it becomes allowed in different markets. In the US, this could happen state by state which could cause issues as people drive over state lines.

Tesla will still be pushing the Self-Driving capability before regulatory approval in order to run the software in ‘shadow mode’ in Tesla vehicles and collect data on how the system performs. The data can then be used to benchmark the system against drivers and prove to regulatory bodies that the system is safer than humans in order to win approval.

Depending on the ramp of Model 3 production, Tesla could have between 150,000 and 300,000 vehicles on the road with what the company believes is the necessary hardware to enable full self-driving by the end of 2017. If, and that’s a big if, regulatory approval is widespread by then and Tesla respects the timeframe publicly set by Musk yesterday, there could be hundreds of thousands of self-driving cars on the roads overnight before the end of next year.

But there are so many things that need to align by then which when you include government regulations means it is an unlikely but exciting best case scenario.

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