Tesla initially opened its "Full Self-Driving" (FSD) beta software to a limited group of customers to mixed public reception nearly a year ago, but now CEO Elon Musk wants to introduce a wider release before the month is out, according to a recent tweet from the billionaire.
However, with Tesla's autonomous systems under a formal probe by the United States government, and several infamous incidents involving the vehicles' systems on the record, some may consider Musk's forthcoming move a cause for worry.
But, should they?
Many Tesla drivers don't mind being test subjects for autonomous systems
On Twitter, Musk said his company would start releasing the FSD version 10 to customers enrolled in Tesla's early access program on Sept. 10, at midnight. But he was quick to add that the software "will need another few weeks after that for tuning [and] bug fixes," and these could take up to four weeks, according to the tweet. Once completed, more Tesla customers will have access to a "public beta button", which will consist of a simple download button, offered to those who bought the FSD package. Notably, this package costs $10,000, and Tesla might discard the September-10 release date, should its CEO decide to tweet a new one. And in case this comes as a surprise, take heed, dear reader: Musk does this a lot.
In 2018, the Tesla CEO said the "long awaited" FSD model would hit the market in August of that year. It didn't. But Musk said basically the same thing in 2019, saying that "a year from now" we'd have "over a million cars with full self-driving, software, everything," according to a report from The Verge. No such luck. In fact, Musk's company didn't start shipping version 9 of FSD until July of this year, and only to members enrolled in its early access program, if you can believe it. But delays aren't as worrying as the idea of a small army of Tesla drivers letting a beta version of a self-driving software take the wheel to provide the electric automaker with data on bugs. You read that right, the limited availability of FSD is a live ongoing test of an incomplete autonomous vehicle product on normal roads, and Tesla customers generally don't mind being test subjects.
Tesla's semi-autonomous driving systems have been misused
However, now everyone with a Tesla can download an older version of Tesla's FSD software, because it was leaked to the hacker community, according to an Electrek report, which said that binary firmware files are making the rounds in the Tesla Root access community. And root access is critical, since it enables drivers with programming literacy to run the FSD software on their Tesla vehicles. This raises the question: Should we be worried about a fleet of Tesla cars careening through cities and down highways with defunct versions of Musk's Full Self-Driving software, wreaking havoc? After all, last month the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a formal probe into the company's autopilot system.
The agency is investigating 765,000 Tesla cars, which comprises nearly everything the company has sold within the U.S. since its 2014 model year, according to a press release. Additionally, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) advised the NHTSA and Tesla to ensure Autopilot is only used in areas that minimize the danger of impacts (but whether this means public roads is unclear). The NTSB has said Tesla drivers, the company itself, and possibly soft regulations from the NHTSA were collectively responsible for two serious collisions that saw Teslas impact tractor-trailers. The company's semi-autonomous system has also been misused by many owners, with one instance involving a drunk driver falling asleep behind the wheel of the company's semi-autonomous system. While no one should panic about Tesla opening up its FSD beta to a wider consumer population, it will doubtlessly worry those familiar with the litany of incidents involving the vehicles.