Tesla’s controversial ‘full self-driving’ version of Autopilot is back

Tesla is bringing back its “full self-driving” feature, after removing the option from its website in October amid criticism the company was overstating the autonomy of its vehicles. The option is back on the menu as part of a shift in how the company markets its advanced driver-assist system Autopilot to its customers, coinciding with news of the company’s new $35,000 Model 3 and its plan to move sales largely online.

Starting today, Tesla is splitting Autopilot into two packages: regular Autopilot, with automatic steering on highways and traffic-aware cruise control; and Full Self-Driving Capability, with Tesla’s recently unveiled “Navigate on Autopilot” feature that guides the car from “on-ramp to off-ramp” by suggesting and making lane changes, navigating highway interchanges, and proactively taking exits.

Later this year, Full Self-Driving will enable Tesla owners to active Autopilot in complex city environments, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a call with reporters Thursday. He wasn’t more specific about when that would be, but this lines up with previous comments he’s made. Another yet-to-be-activated feature included in the Full Self-Driving package is Advanced Summon, in which your parked car will come find you anywhere in a parking lot. Musk didn’t say when that might be available.

Regular Autopilot is priced at $3,000 before delivery or $4,000 if purchased as an upgrade after delivery. The Full Self-Driving package will cost $5,000 before delivery or $7,000 afterward. The two versions are available on all Model S, X, and 3 vehicles sold in most regions. Other advanced safety features — like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, forward and side collision warning, and blind spot warnings — will continue to come standard on all Tesla models, even when customers don’t purchase Autopilot or Full Self-Driving.

 Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

The option was controversial when it was introduced with the Autopilot 2.0 hardware in 2016. At the time, Tesla said that it would release self-driving capability through over-the-air updates after validating the software and gaining regulatory approval.

But two years later, those updates hadn’t arrived and Tesla customers were starting to question their decision to spend the extra $5,000 for the option. Last October, Tesla removed the Full Self-Driving option from its website. “We just weren’t close enough I thought at that time,” Musk said. “It was creating too much confusion.”

But apparently the confusion is now gone, thanks to the release of Navigate on Autopilot, the latest version of the software that first arrived in November of last year. Musk said he now feels more confident letting customers buy this controversially named feature. “I’m driving a development version of Autopilot right now, and it works extremely well recognizing traffic lights and stop signs,” Musk added. “It’s starting to make turns effectively in complex urban environments.”

On its website, Tesla cautions that drivers will need to constantly monitor the vehicle’s operations while using Autopilot, undercutting somewhat the promise inherent in a feature called “full self-driving.” Musk echoed that in comments to reporters.

“Now first of course that this this will need to be supervised by the drivers because it will take us billions of miles to get to the safety level where driver observation is no longer required,” he said. “And then we will need to convince regulators of this, so there are some steps along the way… But as I said before I’m certain we’ll release full self-driving this year.”

Experts are beginning to realize that the way we discuss, and how companies market, autonomy is significant, and Musk has been criticized for misleading the public in how he describes these features. Last month, AAA released a survey of major car brands that found that automakers have gone overboard in their naming conventions; forty percent of Americans think cars with Autopilot can already drive themselves.