Last week we reported that the latest over-the-air Tesla software update improves driving visualization to detect and render traffic cones. Then on Thursday we also shared a video of a Tesla navigating its way through traffic cones, courtesy of Tesla hacker @greentheonly. Now @greentheonly is reporting that the traffic cone feature is only being delivered to Tesla owners with the “Hardware 3” chip (HW3). This is significant, as it’s the first time that software features (in this case, Auto Lane Change and Navigate-on-Autopilot) will be forked for Tesla drivers depending on when their Tesla was built.
Tesla has said that its HW3 chip is in all Model S and X vehicles built since ~March 20, 2019, and all Model 3s built since ~April 12, 2019. Previously, Tesla used a chip from Nvidia referred to as the HW 2.5 chip. (UPDATE: we’ve seen a handful of reports of Model 3s made in May and June 2019 that were still delivered with HW 2.5. However, Tesla emphasizes that if you purchase the FSD software bundle, you will receive the FSD / HW3 chip through a service center appointment if your car came with HW 2.5)
On March 29, 2019, CEO Elon Musk declared that HW3, Tesla’s first in-house chip, was to be referred to as the “FSD chip,” linking the chip to the name of the Full Self Driving (FSD) software bundle. The FSD software bundle adds four features to your Tesla (Navigate-on-Autopilot, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and Smart Summon) as well as two future features (Traffic Light & Stop Sign recognition and Automatic Driving on City Streets). The four current FSD features were previously sold under the since-discontinued “Enhanced Autopilot” (EAP) software bundle.
Musk said that HW3 retrofits will be available to customers with older processors once Autopilot “is able to take meaningful advantage” of the FSD chip. Seven months later, we appear to have the first instance where Tesla’s Autopilot is taking meaningful advantage of HW3. However, existing customers with HW 2.0 or 2.5 are unable to purchase the HW3 processor directly. Instead, they have to purchase the FSD bundle (which is increasing in price indeterminately) if they want to ensure their already paid-for software features remain up to date.
The rapid pace of innovation and over-the-air software updates is why Tesla dominates automotive mind-share with the general public. It’s exciting to watch the progress being made. But making customers buy new software bundles to upgrade a new processor? Is this Kabletown? Tesla could ease existing and potential customer anxiety by offering direct hardware retrofits for sale, or at least doing a better job of detailing what you get and don’t get with software purchases.
For example, are customers who purchase FSD today assured that they’re on a cost-free path to Level 5 autonomy? Or is it possible that the second generation of the FSD chip (already in the works) will be required for Level 5 autonomy? Will that chip retrofit, potentially called the “Autonomy Chip,” be included for FSD owners for free, too? Or will a retrofit require purchase of an Autonomy software bundle?
The above is what happened to EAP software owners. Features they purchased (less than a year ago, for $5,000), like Navigate-on-Autopilot and Auto Lane Change, were moved to a new software bundle, and now require new hardware for completeness. Currently, EAP owners are unable to purchase the new chip itself (the way a PC owner could upgrade their processor), but rather must purchase expensive new software features just to keep their current software features up to date. Speaking personally, I would feel much more comfortable buying a new chip at a Service Center knowing that I could drive home enjoying the latest and greatest, versus buying a new bundle hoping that I get the updates sometime in the next couple of years.
If Tesla wants to continue to sell software as a one-time sale, then it should follow the PC-computer model, and allow existing owners to purchase updated hardware (e.g. FSD chip, MCU) to ensure software they purchase remains complete. Instead, Tesla is telling owners with older processors to buy new software with as-yet unreleased features for the promise of a processor retrofit at an unspecified future date. This is not good, but made even worse by the FOMO (fear of missing out) aspect of ever-increasing software prices (that have nothing to do with the hardware getting more expensive).
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