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Tesla reports no autonomous miles in California again – what does it mean for ‘full self-driving’?

Tesla’s ‘Autonomous Mode Disengagement’ report for 2018 has been released by the California DMV. It shows that the automaker is still not officially testing fully autonomous driving in California.

That’s despite CEO Elon Musk saying that the California-based company is aiming to have its ‘full self-driving capability’ ready this year and running its own employee “full self-driving program”.

Tesla California autonomous driving

In a letter to the DMV released today, Al Prescott, Tesla Deputy General Counsel and Director of Regulatory Affairs, confirmed that Tesla didn’t test “any vehicles on public roads in California in autonomous mode or operate any autonomous vehicles”.

He wrote:

“For Reporting Year 2018, Tesla did not test any vehicles on public roads in California in autonomous mode or operate any autonomous vehicles, as defined by California law. As such, the Company did not experience any autonomous mode disengagements as part of the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program in California.”

The company wrote about what it is doing instead:

“Tesla conducts testing to develop autonomous vehicles via simulation, in laboratories, on test tracks, and on public roads in various locations around the world. Additionally, because Tesla is the only participant in the program that has a fleet of hundreds of thousands of customer-owned vehicles that test autonomous technology in “shadow-mode” during their normal operation, Tesla is able to learn from billions of miles of real-world driving to develop its autonomous technology. In “shadow mode,” we may run features in the background without actuating vehicle controls or receive data back about roadway situations we are specifically targeting in order to train our system to perform better in the real world. We analyze this data from our customer fleet via over-the-air transmissions. These techniques help Tesla to safely develop improvements to our existing Autopilot advanced driver assistance system and future self-driving system.”

Several other companies have reported increasing autonomous mileage in California, including Waymo who saw its disengagement rate drops by half in 2018 and Apple which saw the most disengagements per mile.

Here’s Tesla’s full letter to the DMV:

[scribd id=399581408 key=key-C9sF00FDjaTTNZZPJFgy mode=scroll]

Electrek’s Take

Should Tesla owners with the ‘Full Self-Driving package’ be worried about this? I am on the fence.

To Tesla’s defense, they undoubtedly have the great advantage of running their software on ‘shadow mode’ on hundreds of thousands of vehicles. They also say that they test vehicles “on public roads in various locations around the world” – meaning not in California.

But on the other side, it is weird that Tesla appears to be actively avoiding California, the company’s home, to test fully autonomous vehicles.

I also find it hard to reconcile this with the “full self-driving program” that Tesla is running with employees.

We reported last year that Tesla is recruiting employees to enroll in its ‘full self-driving program’ to install its latest HW3 in their own Tesla vehicles and test its latest self-driving software.

I find it hard to believe that some of the “hundreds” of employees in this program are not in California.

Recently, CEO Elon Musk has been saying that they plan for their full self-driving software to be ready (safer than human drivers by the end of this year – at which point it will be up for regulators to approve it.

I still think that Tesla is well positioned to lead in full self-driving based on the improvement rate of Autopilot and the size of its fleet. However, I agree that it’s weird that Tesla is still not testing fully autonomous vehicles in California.

Hopefully, it will change soon.

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