Like every big name in tech and autos, Tesla has been hard at work on its self-driving vehicle program. Tesla’s tests have been somewhat shrouded in mystery, though, because many of their vehicles operate in a “shadow mode” which train their self-driving systems automatically while users drive their Teslas. While the Tesla “Autopilot” self-driving mode has been available as an optional add-on for some time, the $3,000-$8,000 system is not yet operational. Even worse, there’s no guarantee that they ever will be. Has Tesla sold a product which might never exist?
Tesla charges $5,000 for the basic Autopilot features which include lane-keeping assist technology and advanced cruise control which can adapt to other vehicles. For $3,000 more, owners can add what Tesla calls “Full Self Driving Capability.” According to the “ordering” page on Tesla’s website, “all you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go” with the addition of the Autopilot feature. Even creepier, the car can apparently can decide where to drive itself based on driver’s synced calendars:
If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed.
Sounds great, right? In a dystopian sort of way, maybe. Still, thousands of Tesla owners are thought to have paid for the system which is not yet online. Tesla says the hold-up is “regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction” and it’s impossible to know when it might be online.
Still, some industry insiders believe the hardware built in to Tesla vehicles isn’t sophisticated enough to support a fully autonomous driving system. Could a massive class action suit or refund be in order?