Has Tesla not driven a single autonomous mile on public roads so far?
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires a permission to operate cars in autonomous mode on public roads. This comes with certain requirements one of them is a report on disengagements. These have recently been published and shine some interesting light on the industry.
§ 227.46. Reporting Disengagement of Autonomous Mode.
(a) Upon receipt of a Manufacturer’s Testing Permit, a manufacturer shall commence retaining data related to the disengagement of the autonomous mode. For the purposes of this section, “disengagement” means a deactivation of the autonomous mode when a failure of the autonomous technology is detected or when the safe operation of the vehicle requires that the autonomous vehicle test driver disengage the autonomous mode and take immediate manual control of the vehicle.
Most news outlets reported on what you could find in these reports and Google which is seen as the industry leader when it comes to self-driving cars got the most attention — Google’s self-driving cars would’ve hit something 13 times if not for humans.
But on a closer look there is another interesting observation to be made which is what kind of information is missing. In this case a detailed report from Tesla Motors. While Google or Mercedes submitted 30 page long reports and logs, Tesla just submitted a single page stating:
Reporting Disengagement of Autonomous Mode, Tesla Motors Inc. is hereby reporting that there were Zero (0) autonomous mode disengagements during the period from the date of issuance of our.
First of all to avoid any confusion Tesla’s recently launched Autopilot does not count here as it is essentially active lane keeping assist combined with adaptive cruise control while this regulation (§227.02. Definitions) seem to be aimed at level 4 autonomous cars.
Now what does this mean? Well, either Tesla beat everyone else to the game and has a perfectly working self-driving car or, what is far more likely, they have not done any or very little driverless car testing on public roads. That is particularly interesting coming from a company whose CEO just made a very bold statement a few days ago…
While the Autopilot the gamble seems to have paid off even though it came almost a year late and the latest OTA update added some restrictions, those assist systems still had the advantage of a driver behind the wheel who was ultimately in charge of the vehicle. When summoning an autonomous car this luxury backup plan no longer exist. Overall it seems very unlikely Tesla Motors will bring an autonomous car to the market within two years when they have not yet tested a single mile while others have put many hours and miles into it. And that’s completely ignoring any legislative red tape.
There are obviously companies like Mobileye in the background which supply the lion’s share of the technology. But it seems rather ironic that Tesla would completely outsource such a core function of the car and one of their marketing highlights. Not to mention that Tesla enthusiasts love to bring up the lack of battery manufacturing done by other car manufacturers and emphasize the in-house production share of the Model S & X.