Musk often uses the term “feature complete” or “fully autonomous” instead of “level 5” autonomy. I thought he was being clever as a get-out-of-jail-for-free card. He could argue that the Teslas were “fully autonomous” – until they needed human assistance – or some equivalent nonsense.
I am no fan of the SAE J3016 5 Levels of Autonomy which I described in some detail over a series of posts culminating in this one but when pressed for his definition of “feature complete” or fully autonomous, Musk did not hesitate to describe it as “level 5”.
Let’s look at the definition of level 5; officially it’s the entirely unapproachable “sustained and unconditional (i.e., not ODD Operational Design Domain specific) performance by an ADS Automated driving system of the entire DDT Dynamic Driving Task and DDT fallback without any expectation that a user will respond to a request to intervene.” In other words, the car will drive itself all the time, in all conditions and never need a driver (or even a remote driver) to help whatsoever. It is very clear. The driver can sleep, watch TV and in theory at least, not even need a licence to drive.
Park that idea for a moment and consider the current Tesla Model S Owner’s Manual. It makes for a fascinating read especially between pages 87 to 132 where it describes the controversially named “Autopilot”.
Everything highlighted represents the warnings and cautions associated with using Autopilot.
It includes such chestnuts as;
Scanning through the numerous warnings makes for difficult reading. You are left with a nervousness about the quality of the software, the capabilities of the car and the immense gap between the current features and full autonomy.
On one hand, you can look at the warnings and cautions and think of it as being the roadmap or software backlog to full autonomy. Just focus on one warning at a time, improve the software, knock it off the list and you are done.
The problem is that each new feature creates new warnings. Take the “Smart Summon” feature for example that was released in Q3 2019. It comes with 18 warnings or cautions. At the current rate the manual, which is currently 259 pages long (relatively short by comparison to some other cars), will exponentially balloon in size as new features are added.
To highlight this point, the manual was 194 pages in 2018 and now 259 pages in 2020; a 33% increase in two years.
To reach level 5, the manual will need to have no mention of “failure to do so can cause damage, injury or death” as there will be nothing for the person to “do”. The section about Level 5 Autopilot will need to be a single page about how to start it and stop it.
The irony is that this document, produced by Tesla itself, articulates better than anything the current dichotomy between Musk’s vision of so-called “feature complete full autonomy” and the current reality.