In its report to the Californian DMV today, Tesla confirmed that it didn’t test fully autonomous vehicles on state roads in 2017.
The automaker keeps its autonomous driving test program more opaque as Tesla owners are frustrated by the delayed release of new Autopilot features.
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Tesla was amongst the first companies to receive a permit from the DMV to test fully autonomous vehicles in California.
Since it has a permit, it has to report the disengagement of autonomous mode during their tests every year.
In 2016, it reported a few hundred miles of autonomous driving and it mostly had to do with producing their first demonstration video of their autonomous driving technology.
Now for the 2017 report, Tesla confirmed that they haven’t tested fully self-driving technology “as defined by California law”:
“For Reporting Year 2017, Tesla did not test any vehicles on public roads in California in autonomous mode, as defined by California law.”
In comparison, competitors, like Waymo and GM Cruise, have reported hundreds of thousands of autonomous miles under the test program.
The news could worry Tesla owners who have already bought the automakers “Fully Self-Driving” feature, which has already been delayed since launching in October 2016.
But Tesla says that it tests its vehicles in autonomous mode in other locations, including tests tracks and public roads outside of California, and maybe more importantly, in “shadow-mode” inside its customer fleet.
The company wrote in the report:
“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 (these are not autonomous vehicles nor have they been driven in autonomous mode as defined by California law), Tesla is able to use billions of miles of real-world driving data to develop its autonomous technology.”
Tesla has been boasting about its ability to run new software in “shadow mode,” which means that new features run in the background without actuating vehicle controls in order to provide data on how the features would perform in real-world and real-time conditions, inside its existing fleet in the hands of customers.
CEO Elon Musk has recently been promising significant Autopilot updates, and that features under “fully self-driving” will start to be enabled in 2018.
Here’s Tesla’s report in full:
The disengagement of autonomous mode gives us an interesting look at some autonomous driving programs in California, which is arguably the most popular state for autonomous driving test programs.
But it looks like Tesla doesn’t like the exposure and it is keeping its test program more opaque than competitors, like Waymo and GM Cruise.
I think this can be frustrating for owners of Tesla vehicles with Autopilot who would like a closer look at exactly where Tesla is with the status of Autopilot beyond the updates being pushed to their vehicles every month or so.
Since October 2016, we know for a fact that Tesla is testing Autopilot builds much closer to level 4 autonomous driving, but we haven’t seen much of it in over a year.
The next milestone was the promised coast-to-coast autonomous driving demonstration, which was supposed to happen by the end of last year, but it was delayed.
Now I know it’s frustrating for owners, but I myself stay somewhat optimistic about what Tesla can do on this front. Tesla started to really upload significant data from its Autopilot 2.0 fleet back in May, but several owners have now reported another significant uptick in uploads over the last few months.
In November, Musk said that “the foundation of the Tesla vision neural net is right” and if that’s true and combined with an incredible amount of data, which the fleet is certainly providing, they could be making great strides right now.
It could still take a few months to validate it, but I think we could get a pleasant surprise relatively soon.