Tesla has reported some fully autonomous test miles for the first time in years in the California DMV disengagement report, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.

The California DMV makes companies who are testing autonomous vehicles in the state submit yearly “disengagement reports” to release details about each time their autonomous test vehicles had to be disengaged.

In its report back in 2016, Tesla reported having  4 self-driving Model X prototypes driving just over 500 autonomous miles on public roads. As we reported based on sources, the mileage was mainly for producing video demonstrations of what they could do with their newly launched hardware suite at the time.

Since then, Tesla hasn’t submitted any autonomous test miles in California for its vehicles until now.

In its latest California DMV disengagement report for 2019, Tesla reported 12.2 autonomous miles and no disengagement event.

Eric C. Williams, Tesla Managing Counsel for Regulatory Affairs, confirmed that the miles were logged in relation to Tesla’s new self-driving demo with new Autopilot graphics:

“For Reporting Year 2019, Tesla briefly tested an autonomous vehicle in autonomous mode on public roads in California. In April, we operated one vehicle in autonomous mode to record one demo run on a 12.2-mile route around Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters. The route covered surface streets and highways. We did not experience any autonomous mode disengagements during this run and, as a result, do not have any disengagements to report for Reporting Year 2019.”

Like it did in previous letters regarding not reporting any autonomous miles or just a few, in this case, Tesla claims to mainly be testing its autonomous driving technology in “shadow mode” on its existing fleet and at other locations than California public roads, which enables them to not log those miles with the DMV.

Williams added in his letter to the DMV:

“For background on how Tesla develops software capability, first, using industry best practices, we perform hardware and software in-the-loop testing, system-level and regression testing, simulations, test track and/or on-road testing (not autonomous), and a battery of cross-functional reviews, hazard analysis, risks assessments, and failure modes and effects analysis. Second, we rely heavily on fleet learning. Tesla is the only participant in the AVT program with a fleet of customer-owned vehicles in the hundreds of thousands. Virtually all customers consent to Tesla running developmental feature software, including for AV capability, in “shadow mode” during their normal driving operation. Features in “shadow mode” run silently in the background without actuating any vehicle controls whatsoever, which enables Tesla to test how features will perform in real-world driving conditions before we deploy them to the customer fleet. As a result, we are able to collect billions of miles of anonymized driving data remotely over the air, including on targeted roadways and in driving situations that we later use to train AV features to perform safely, consistently, and predictably.”

Here’s Tesla’s letter to the DMV in full:

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Electrek’s Take

It looks like not much has changed for Tesla in terms of its self-driving test strategy over the last 4 years. It’s kind of a bummer that we finally get new autonomous miles reported and it’s again just to film a demo.

That said, I am a fan of Tesla’s approach to self-driving. Without those test miles, they are still collecting a lot of data that is helping them develop their system.

Also, I guess the good news is that they didn’t have any disengagements over those 12 miles.

Last time, Tesla had to drive 500 miles for the demo because they had to do it again and again due to disengagements.

Now it looks like it was flawless based on the report.

I am also curious about where Tesla is testing its vehicles in fully autonomous mode on public roads if not in California. Unlike other automakers and self-driving companies, Tesla’s autonomous vehicles are hard to spot since its autonomous sensor suite is the same on any customer car.

If you know more about Tesla’s autonomous driving efforts or Tesla in general, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Fred@electrek.co, via Wickr: Fredev, or through my social media: Twitter and Instagram.

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