Autonomous driving technologies offer the promise of safer, more convenient and accessible transportation. As a leader in the space, Tesla‘s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) systems aim to automate driving to varying degrees. This article provides an in-depth look at how Tesla‘s two approaches compare in terms of history, capabilities, limitations, availability, real-world testing and the road ahead.
Origin and Evolution of Autopilot
Tesla first unveiled Autopilot in 2014, enabling Model S vehicles to steer, accelerate and brake automatically on highways. Through wireless software updates, Tesla steadily expanded the system‘s capabilities over subsequent years:
- v7.0 (2015) – Automatic steering and lane changing on highways
- v8.0 (2016) – Transition between freeways interchanges, exit ramps
- v9.0 (2018) – Navigate on Autopilot for assisted driving from on-ramp to off-ramp
- v10.0 (2019) – Recognize traffic lights and signs, make automatic stops
- v11.0 (2021) – Recall driver preferences at certain locations
As of 2022, there are over 500,000 Tesla vehicles on the road equipped with Autopilot hardware. While the core capabilities to enable assisted highway driving were present from the start, Tesla has iteratively enhanced Autopilot‘s intelligence and scope.
History of Full Self-Driving Development
Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced the idea of enhancing Autopilot to achieve full autonomy in 2016. While Musk set ambitious timelines, the challenges of developing and validating FSD became apparent:
- 2016 – Musk aims for Level 5 full autonomy by 2018
- 2019 – Launches early FSD preview featuring Smart Summon to move car autonomously in parking lots
- 2020 – Deploys first FSD beta to about 1,000 customers, focused on urban driving
- 2022 – Expands FSD beta to over 100,000 users
Despite Tesla expanding its FSD testing fleet to over 100,000 vehicles, full automation with no driver supervision remains elusive. While FSD handles some complex city environments, it is still classified as Level 2 autonomy requiring human monitoring.
Autopilot vs. FSD: Adoption Statistics
As standard equipment, Autopilot maintains a higher adoption rate among Tesla owners compared to the optional FSD package:
- Over 1 million Tesla vehicles produced since 2014 are equipped with Autopilot hardware.
- Roughly 10% of Tesla owners paid for the FSD upgrade as of 2020. Adoption seems to be rising with the expanded beta test.
- That translates to an estimated 100,000-200,000 Teslas currently running FSD software.
However, a subscription-based version of FSD could dramatically increase accessibility down the road if Tesla executes its plan to offer the package as a monthly add-on.
Real-World Crash Data
Autopilot and FSD introduce new factors to road safety, as reflected in crash statistics:
|Vehicles on the road||~500,000||~100,000|
Overall, Autopilot demonstrates a lower crash rate compared to the average in the United States of .61 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. However, the sample size for FSD is still quite limited at this stage.
Autopilot vs FSD Availability
A key difference in availability is that Autopilot comes standard, while FSD costs extra:
- Autopilot is included on new Tesla vehicles with qualifying hardware
- FSD is a $12,000 add-on option at purchase or as an after-purchase upgrade
- FSD is currently only available in the U.S. and Canada
Autopilot provides baseline ADAS functionality to make highway driving easier. FSD offers next-level driver assistance, but at a hefty price tag. Its availability outside North America remains limited as well.
Autopilot and FSD: Under the Hood
Sophisticated technology underpins Tesla‘s autonomous capabilities:
- Cameras – 8 surround cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car.
- Radar – Forward-facing radars look ahead to detect objects, even through heavy rain, fog, dust.
- Ultrasonics – 12 ultrasonic sensors ring the car to help identify nearby cars, pedestrians and obstacles.
- AI Compute – Tesla Full Self-Driving Computer provides up to 144 TeraOPS of power for neural network processing.
Together, this sensor suite and computing power equip Autopilot and FSD to interpret the environment, make driving decisions and execute maneuvers. Tesla continues investing to improve hardware and AI capabilities.
Testing Philosophy: Simulation vs. Real-World
Most autonomous vehicle developers rely primarily on simulation and closed courses during development and testing. Tesla takes a different approach by pushing software to customer vehicles:
- Allows engineers to model billions of driving scenarios difficult to reproduce physically
- Scenarios can be tailored to stress test edge cases and failure modes
- Lowers risk compared to real-world testing
- Provides billions of miles of real-world driving data
- Validates if simulation models reflect actual on-road experience
- Scale of feedback can accelerate improvements
- Risks associated with releasing beta software on public roads
Tesla argues extensive simulation combined with large-scale fleet learning enables rapid advancement of safe autonomy. However, regulators have questioned the approach.
Impact on Drivers, Society and the Future
Vehicle automation technologies like Tesla‘s have wide-ranging implications:
- Allow drivers to reclaim commute time for work or leisure
- Could potentially reduce traffic accidents and resulting injuries/fatalities
- Increase accessibility for elderly and disabled
- Along with electric vehicles, help cut emissions for environmental benefits
- Raise complex questions around safety validation, appropriate oversight regulations
Fully autonomous vehicles promise enormous benefits across society. But roadmaps to develop and validate these systems safely remain uncertain.
Experience Autonomy in Action
These video showcases offer a first-hand look at Autopilot and FSD‘s real-world capabilities today:[Insert embedded video showing Autopilot navigating highway driving scenario] [Insert embedded video demonstrating FSD beta navigating complex city environment]
While impressively capable in many situations, the videos also reveal some of the hesitations and imperfect maneuvers that highlight the ongoing challenges of full autonomous driving.
The Road Ahead
Tesla has made strides in self-driving capabilities once thought decades away. But challenges remain to achieve broader Level 5 autonomy:
- Further improve AI to master difficult driving scenarios like complex intersections
- Expand validation through billions more real-world test miles across fleets
- Add redundancy through additional sensors not just dependent on cameras and radar
- Deploy high-precision maps to support autonomous navigation
- Reduce costs through custom chip development and manufacturing
- Navigate regulations around safety testing and public usage
With continued innovation, additional validating testing, and prudent regulation, Tesla appears well-positioned to stay at the forefront of vehicle autonomy. But full self-driving without human oversight remains a complex challenge.
Should You Choose Autopilot or FSD?
When considering Autopilot versus FSD for your Tesla, weigh your driving needs against the differences:
- Autopilot provides solid highway assistance at no extra cost.
- FSD adds city street autonomy for a hefty $12,000 upgrade fee.
- Neither system enables full self-driving or allows hands-free inattention.
For city navigating, FSD expands capabilities. Yet diligent driver supervision is still legally and safely required. Given the limitations, many find Autopilot meets their needs for highway driving convenience. But FSD‘s cutting-edge automation offers a glimpse of the possibilities ahead.
As regulations and technology continue advancing, Tesla aims to ultimately deliver safe and affordable full autonomy. Until then, view Autopilot and FSD as innovative stepping stones towards that goal.