The false promises of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving

Back in 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stunned the automotive world by announcing that, henceforth, all of his company’s vehicles would be shipped with the hardware necessary for “full self-driving.” You will be able to nap in your car while it drives you to work, he promised. It will even be able to drive cross-country with no one inside the vehicle.

But while Musk would eventually ship an advanced driver-assist system that he called Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta, the idea that any Tesla owner could catch some z’s while their car whisks them along is, at best, laughable — and at worst, a profoundly fatal error.

Since that 2016 announcement, hundreds of fully driverless cars have rolled out in multiple US cities, and none of them bear the Tesla logo. In episode five of Land of the Giants: The Tesla Shock Wave, we look at what went wrong, why Tesla may never deliver a fully driverless vehicle, and what real autonomy actually looks like.

Musk’s repeated claims that autonomous vehicles were just “a year” or so away are now part of Tesla lore. His supporters point to the success of Autopilot, and then FSD, as evidence that while his promises may not exactly line up with reality, he is still at the forefront of a societal shift from human-powered vehicles to ones piloted by AI. He’s even making an army of worker bots to prove the point that the technology is formally agnostic.

But so far, it’s not looking great. There have been hundreds of crashes involving Tesla vehicles using FSD and Autopilot and dozens of deaths. Multiple government agencies are investigating the company’s claims around self-driving, and a major recall could be coming down the pipe. Even the robot seems, well, flawed.

Musk’s repeated claims that autonomous vehicles were just “a year” or so away are now part of Tesla lore

“Tesla is marketing and trying to sell you a product that doesn’t exist,” said Nabilah Hussain, a lawyer leading one of several ongoing lawsuits against Tesla. “At no point during the marketing and sale of these vehicles was Tesla even remotely close to having a vehicle that was gonna be fully self-driving. And that’s true today.”

In the episode, we test out FSD for ourselves as well as autonomous vehicles from other major companies. You’ll also hear from a former Tesla employee who was fired after posting videos of FSD errors, experts who compare the company’s self-driving efforts to its competitors, and even from the competitors themselves — like Kyle Vogt, CEO of the General Motors-backed Cruise, who is unconvinced that Musk can fulfill his promises without rethinking his entire hardware strategy.

“So that’s a bit of a moonshot,” Vogt said, “and it’s the reason you can have a Tesla that’s fun to drive, but you can’t be picked up from one of those with no one behind the wheel.”

Listen to the latest episode of Land of the Giants: The Tesla Shock Wave, a co-production between The Verge and the Vox Media Podcast Network. You can catch new episodes on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.


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