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Tesla drivers can request FSD Beta with a button press, despite safety concerns


Electric vehicle maker Tesla rolled out a long-awaited software update Friday night that allows customers to request access to its controversial Full Self-Driving Beta (FSD Beta) software.

The move delighted fans of CEO Elon Musk and Tesla, but it risks drawing the ire of federal vehicle safety authorities who are already investigating the automaker for possible safety defects in its driver-assistance systems.

FSD Beta, Tesla’s unfinished driver-assistance program, is available in the U.S. at a price of $199 per month or $10,000 upfront.

FSD Beta is advertised as a way for Teslas to change lanes and navigate on the highway. It also allows them to park in a spot or move out of one.

FSD Beta allows drivers to access an “autosteer in cities” feature. This is yet to be fully developed and allows drivers to navigate through urban environments with pedestrians, cyclists, and pets, without having to move the steering wheel. The driver is expected to be attentive with their eyes on the road and ready to assume control of driving at any moment.

None of Tesla’s driver assistance systems — including the company’s standard Autopilot package, premium Full Self-Driving option, or FSD Beta — make Teslas autonomous.

FSD Beta had been made available by Tesla to around 2,000 individuals, mostly employees, and customers. They were able to test the system on public roads even though it has not yet been fully debugged.

It is possible that the download button will lead to rapid growth in participation by those who do not have regulatory training.

Government response

Tesla CEO Elon Musk gestures as he visits the construction site of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, August 13, 2021.

Reuters When Musk revealed new information about FSD beta, Jennifer Homendy of the National Transporation Safety Board expressed concern. Homendy stated that “basic safety concerns have to be dealt with” before Tesla expands FSD Beta into other cities and regions.| Reuters

Last week, when CEO Musk announced new details about the FSD beta button, Jennifer Homendy, the head of the National Transporation Safety Board, voiced concern over the company’s plans in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Homendy said, “Basic safety issues have to be addressed,” before Tesla expands FSD Beta to other city streets and regions. The NTSB chief expressed dismay that the company had been testing its unfinished product using untrained drivers, rather than safety professionals.

Homendy also remarked — and in interviews with Autonocast, an industry podcast, and the Washington Post — that Tesla’s use of the term Full Self-Driving for a “level 2” driver assistance system is misleading and confusing.

Musk In a tweet, Homendy stated that FSD Beta seems to be so great that it could give drivers the false impression that they don’t have to pay attention while FSD Beta engages. However, they should remain focused and on the wheel.

On Saturday, after Tesla enabled the “request full self-driving beta” feature in its vehicles — a fan blog named Teslarati shared a post on Twitter asking, “Does Tesla have a fair chance after NTSB Chief comments?”

Musk answered them via Twitter by sharing a link from the Wikipedia biography Homendy. While Musk has previously urged his tens of millions of followers on Twitter to alter a description of his own career on Wikipedia, he shared this link to Homendy’s bio there without comment.

CNBC reached out to Tesla and the NTSB — neither was immediately available to comment on Saturday.

Safety score

Musk has been promising Tesla owners an FSD beta download button for months. Musk tweeted in March 2021 that the button would allow users to download the most recent FSD Beta build, as long as the car is connected to Wi Fi.

However, he changed his mind. Tesla now has a calculator that it uses to calculate drivers’ safety scores and decide who can get FSD Beta software.

CNBC received screen shots from Tesla owners using FSD that show the “safety score,” which is similar to an insurance risk score.

CNBC viewed screenshots and correspondence to see that Tesla’s system tabulates drivers’ “Predicted Collision Frequency”, Forward Collision Warning Per 1,000 Miles and Hard Braking.

Tesla’s system, however, does not appear to be able to determine how many drivers are unable to control the steering wheel or how fast they give up driving when they are asked.

FSD Beta is only available to users with a perfect driving record over a week.

CNBC interviewed the California DMV Autonomous Vehicles Branch to find out how safe and widespread FSD Beta-equipped vehicles are in California before Tesla launched its FSD Beta Button (and the FSD Beta version 10.1), which was also expected this weekend.

The DMV declined an interview request but said, in an e-mailed statement:

“Based on information the information Tesla has provided the DMV, the feature does not make the vehicle an autonomous vehicle per California regulations. The DMV continues to gather information from Tesla on its beta release – including any expansion of the program and features.  Tesla will require the regulatory approval if the capability of the feature changes to meet California’s definition of autonomous vehicle. Regardless of the level of vehicle autonomy, the DMV has reminded Tesla that clear and effective communication to the driver about the technology’s capabilities, limitations and intended use is necessary. The DMV is reviewing the company’s use of the term ‘Full Self-Driving’ for its technology. Because it is ongoing, the DMV cannot discuss the review until it is complete.”