July 2nd, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Tesla’s Autopilot software development can get confusing, especially at 2:00 am, but we’ve got an update on how it’s coming along from Mr. Musk himself that probably interest a million+ people, so here’s the breaking news followed by a bit of background (as much as I can squeeze out in this middle-of-the-night session):
In response to a question on Twitter from an entire planet (or someone impersonating one), Elon Musk told “Whole Mars” that Tesla’s Autopilot software rewrite was coming along smoothly. More specifically: “Going well. Team is kicking ass & it’s an honor to work with them. Pretty much everything had to be rewritten, including our labeling software, so that it’s fundamentally ‘3D’ at every step from training through inference.”
The representative of the Tesla Owners East Bay club followed up with a question about “reverse summon” (I’ll explain the terms in a moment in case this is all new to you), in which Elon added more context to the process, potential timeline, goals, and some remaining hurdles:
“A lot of functionality will happen all at once when we transition to the new software stack. Most likely, it will be releasable in 2 to 4 months. Then it’s a question of what functionality is proven safe enough to enable for owners.“
Backing up a bit, in late 2016, Tesla producing vehicles will hardware that would allow for full self driving capability … someday. Perhaps. Since then, as Tesla has continued to develop the software for this (which is generally called “Autopilot” or referred to as “Full Self Driving”/FSD since that’s now the package you buy for the best features). However, alongside the software development a separate team has been working to improve the hardware, and either out of necessity or simply to improve capabilities, in 2019 Tesla started rolling out significantly upgraded FSD hardware in all new vehicles, and also started upgraded vehicles that were bought previously and have FSD activated.
While it is indeed 2020 and we don’t have Tesla cars that can drive themselves from coast to coast, or door to door, completely on their own — as some people thought they would be able to do by now (I may or may not have been in that camp) — Tesla vehicles have gotten new Autopilot/FSD capabilities in the past year, including the ability to automagically stop at stop signs and red lights (updated in just the past week to do so without you giving the car permission to drive through each green light) and the ability to drive through a parking lot to you as you hold down “Summon” on your phone app — see videos above or this shorter one explaining the process more concisely:
Features we are waiting on from our nearly autonomous cars include: the ability to drive faster than the speed limit with this setting on (hopefully this is coming soon, since it’s not safe to drive the speed limit in the places I drive), the ability to take turns on its own (of course, if you’ve put a destination into the navigation system — the car shouldn’t just take you wherever it wants), the ability to navigate parking lots by itself and park on its own as well, and the ability to avoid potholes (please, please, please).
Once all of that is done (perhaps minus the pothole part), then we basically have cars that could operate as robotaxis — regulations permitting. However, to get to those stages, it seems that Tesla decided in the past year that it needed to fundamentally change its coding approach to this task. It needed to “rewrite” the Autopilot software. Hence the question from Whole Mars in the tweet below. As Elon Musk noted here and previously, the team had to change how it was written to make it essentially “3D” instead of “2D” — from beginning to ending of the coding process. You want more precise details on that so that you can picture it better? So do I, but in the end, the story seems clear enough as it is and more details may be more confusing than enlightening for those of us who can’t code Blastar.
The good news is that once Tesla finishes this 3 dimensional software rewrite, several new features may be added quickly. However, after the rewrite, Tesla needs to get to work testing the recipe of its new Autopilot cake. Naturally, Tesla will make sure any new software functionality will be super duper pooper safe before releasing them into the wild in customers cars.
We’ll keep you posted. I actually have what I think is a totally awesome side story on this whole story that I think will be finished soon. It won’t give you a look into the 3D coding, but it will aim to put the frame around that process a little bit better.
Going well. Team is kicking ass & it’s an honor to work with them. Pretty much everything had to be rewritten, including our labeling software, so that it’s fundamentally “3D” at every step from training through inference.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 2, 2020
A lot of functionality will happen all at once when we transition to the new software stack. Most likely, it will be releasable in 2 to 4 months. Then it’s a question of what functionality is proven safe enough to enable for owners.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 2, 2020
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