However, the experiences of drivers beta testing the early version of “full self-driving,” who decided to post footage online, so far suggest there’s much work to be done before attentive humans aren’t needed behind the wheel. It’s unclear how many beta testers there are.
Tesla’s technology can’t be expected to immediately match human performance yet, as the artificial intelligence-powered system needs real-world experience to gather data, learn and improve. But having a raw, student driver on roads also raises questions of whether Tesla is doing enough to mitigate safety risks.
Bryan Reimer, who leads MIT’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Consortium, which studies advanced driver assist systems like Tesla’s Autopilot, told CNN Business that humans aren’t equipped to oversee automation without support, and a camera-based driver monitoring system is needed at minimum to mitigate risks associated with Tesla’s full self-driving software.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration views Tesla’s latest technology as a driver assistance system, which requires a fully attentive human driver. A NHTSA spokeswoman said in a statement sent to CNN Business that the agency will not hesitate to take action to protect the public against unreasonable risks to safety.
Tesla has warned current drivers to pay extra attention to the road, and keep their hands on the wheel.
“Do not become complacent,” Tesla warned the drivers in a message displayed when they installed the software, which CNN viewed in multiple videos posted by people testing the software. “It may do the wrong thing at the worst time.”
Tesla released the unfinished “full self-driving” software to a select group of Tesla owners last week, though it is yet unclear how the group was selected. Drivers posting video clips of “full self-driving” say that it’s significantly better than the last version of Autopilot they had. A broader rollout of Tesla’s “full self-driving” is expected as Tesla improves the software, though when that may be is unclear.
Some of the drivers have said on social media that they’ve been amazed and impressed by what Tesla’s full self-driving technology is capable of.
Seemingly mundane maneuvers for human drivers, like circling a roundabout, have drawn intense praise from the Tesla owners and friends they’ve allowed to ride with them.
Hallock, a YouTuber who lives in North Carolina, said in a video that Tesla isn’t paying him for doing the testing.
Some Tesla owners with “full self-driving” report that they’ve already received an updated version of the software, and seen improvements.
Fewer than six minutes later, in the same video, McGowen had to grab the wheel and disengage full self-driving to prevent the car from driving off the road.
“Yeah, it’s not doing well at night,” McGowen said.