Tesla Transforms “Full Self-Driving” and “Tesla Network” Language
Sweeping changes to Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” description suggest a major shift in Tesla’s controversial automated driving ambitions.
Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" option has long been Tesla's most aspirational and controversial feature, but now it seems the electric automaker is backing away from its biggest ambitions. In the wake of changes to Autopilot and "Full Self-Driving" pricing and options, the page describing these two automated driving options on Tesla's website has been significantly modified. These changes were first spotted by TeslaMotorsClub member "lunitiks," who posted images showing the previous language (highlighted in red) and the updated language (highlighted in green) showing just how profound these modifications really are.
Most prominently, Tesla has removed the headline language claiming "Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Cars" and replaced it with the fare more innocuous phrase "Future of Driving." Rather than saying "All Tesla vehicles produced in our factory, including Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver," Tesla now says that "All new Tesla cars come standard with advanced hardware capable of providing Autopilot features today and full self-driving capabilities in the future—through software updates designed to improve functionality over time." This sets the tone for other changes further down the page, and indicates that Tesla is trying to establish a clearer distinction between the current Autopilot capabilities and the as-yet unavailable "Full Self-Driving" capabilities. The decision to remove language about a "safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver" may well reflect the recent debunking of NHTSA's claim that Autopilot reduces crashes by 40%, but what's less clear is why Tesla removed specific mentions of the Model 3.
When it first announced the Hardware 2 suite that gave rise to the "Full Self-Driving" option, Tesla changed the Autopilot to "Enhanced Autopilot." Now, after nearly two and a half years during which "Enhanced" Autopilot failed to offer significant improvements or new features over the original. Tesla is back to just calling it "Autopilot." In the latest language change Tesla has removed language saying "Enhanced Autopilot has begun rolling out and features will continue to be introduced as validation is competed, subject to regulatory approval" and now states "Autopilot advanced safety and convenience features are designed to assist you with the most burdensome parts of driving. Autopilot introduces new features and improves existing functionality to make your Tesla safer and more capable over time." The same list of features continues to appear "Your Tesla will match speed to traffic conditions, keep within a lane, automatically change lanes without requiring driver input, transition from one freeway to another, exit the freeway when your destination is near, self-park when near a parking spot and be summoned to and from your garage."
Tesla has also replaced the sentence saying "Every driver is responsible for remaining alert and active when using Autopilot, and must be prepared to take action at any time" in favor of a more prominent and concise statement: "Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous." There are also minor changes to the "Smart Summon" feature, which has been renamed "Enhanced Summon" and now clarifies that it will "come fund you anywhere in a parking lot."
Significant changes come to the language about "Full Self-Driving Capability" as well, starting with the replacement of "all Tesla vehicles" with "new Tesla cars" and the removal of language about "a safety level we believe will be at least twice as good as the average human driver." Tesla also removed a sentence say "For Superchargers that have automatic charge connection enabled, you will not even need to plug in your vehicle," an apparent reference to Tesla's now-abandoned aspiration to offer automated Superchargers. Tesla also cleaned up its language about validation and regulatory approval, stating that "The future use of these features without supervision is dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval which may take longer in some jurisdictions. As these self-driving capabilities are introduced, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates." This change doesn't imply anything new, beyond more precise language about validation requiring "billions of miles."
The real critical change comes from the removal (with no replacement) of the following sentence: "Please note also that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year." This is hugely significant, since the Tesla Network has been seen by some Wall Street analysts as a major source of future value for Tesla, despite the fact that it has always been purely hypothetical. Since Tesla now says that "Full Self-Driving" features will require human supervision until validation and regulatory approval (which doesn't formally exist in the US), the promise of a Tesla paying for itself by serving as a robotaxi while you work or sleep isn't exactly on the horizon. Given that Tesla's sensor suite is much less capable than those in Level 4 cars developed by companies like Waymo and Argo AI, and considering those companies don't see the non-geofenced full autonomy (Level 5) that Tesla has been selling happening any time in the non-distant future, it's probably a safe bet that consumer-owned Teslas will never serve as driverless robotaxis.
If you follow autonomous drive technology closely, it's not really a surprise to see Tesla change this language. The company has oversold its automated driving capability and been wildly overoptimistic about its development timelines since day one, to the point where most people working at serious Level 4 developers tend to think Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" option is a bad joke at best and a fraudulent threat to the entire autonomous drive sector at worst. But what isn't clear is why Tesla is changing its language now: is it the pair of recent crashes now under investigation by NHTSA and the NTSB, or could it be that a regulator is looking at the possibility of taking action against Tesla's automated driving systems outlined in my recent piece? For the moment we can only speculate...