Will Tesla Ever Learn? New FSD Beta Clip, Same Old Questionable Antics

Proof the Tesla driver has hands (well, at least one) 6 photos
Photo: Tesla on / modified screenshot
Still from Tesla's FSD Beta promo videoStill from Tesla's FSD Beta promo videoStill from Tesla's FSD Beta promo videoStill from Tesla's FSD Beta promo videoStill from Tesla's FSD Beta promo video
Anyone with kids (cats qualify as well, maybe even some dogs) must be familiar with the feeling you get when you watch them do something you've explicitly told them not to countless times, sometimes even during the five minutes leading up to that moment.
It leaves you wondering whether they're really that forgetful, they simply don't care one iota about what you say, or they're just doing it on purpose to piss you off and test your limits. If it's the former, you'll probably go online to look for some over-the-counter medication or book an appointment with the doctor; if it's the one in the middle, you may think about reconsidering your parenting methods and trying something else; if it's the latter, though, it's clear that whatever you've been doing so far has failed, and it might be time for a hard reset. You need to pull the plug and make sure nothing is the same as before when you put it back in.

Ever since Tesla first introduced its advanced driver-assistance system all these years ago, it has found itself on the receiving end of plenty of criticism about how it chose to advertise its product. From the names themselves - first, the "Autopilot," and then the even more misleading "Full Self-Driving Beta" - to Elon Musk's countless irresponsible statements and claims, and ending with the staged videos presumably showcasing the system's capabilities, the media, the public, and authorities alike took turns slamming the company's approach to promoting this sensible technology.

So, by all accounts, Tesla and Musk have repeatedly been told to behave themselves when it comes to autonomous driving, and yet the pair appears unable to do so. The motivation on their part is obvious - it's not so much to irritate those representing the parenting figure in this metaphor - though, if not part of the motivation itself, I'm sure it's at least a very enjoyable side effect for Elon - as a very effective tool for boosting sales, building up the company's image of technological boundaries-pusher, and ultimately driving up profits as well as those all-important share prices.

In a tweet posted less than two days ago using the company's official handle, the FSD Beta system is shown performing a short to medium-length trip (the clip is five minutes long, but most of it is sped up by a factor of 2.5, with some boring sections pushing that to 50, so it's hard to tell exactly how long it took in real time) somewhere around Austin. So far, so good.

Well, not entirely "good" since Tesla has a record of manipulating this very type of video in the past. That obviously doesn't automatically mean that every clip published since then was also tinkered with, but it does sort of put you on guard and makes you watch them with one eyebrow raised. Normally, you'd think companies, just like people, are capable of change, but Tesla sure goes out of its way to convince us of the contrary.

You can sit through the entire five minutes of the clip and hunt for any mistakes made by the FSD Beta, though I don't recommend you do. Apart from moving to the left for no apparent reason other than the left turn it made quite a few miles later, there is nothing worth noting. In fact, the man in the driver's seat never once had to touch the steering wheel.

Wait, what?

Oh, yes, you heard that right: the *ahem* driver in Tesla's promotional video keeps his hands out of sight for the entire duration of the trip, despite the little fact that, you know, anyone using Tesla's FSD Beta system in the real world is asked to keep their hands on the wheel at all times (because the car might do "the wrong thing at the worst time," remember?). "Your hands must be on the steering wheel at all times while Full Self-Driving (Beta) is engaged," the recommendation on Tesla's own website reads, "and you must monitor your surroundings, the road, and other road users." Well, what can I say? Great way of showing everyone how to do that, Tesla.

You're probably sitting there thinking I'm making too big a deal out of this. After all, if the driver had his hands on the steering wheel, we'd all be crying out that it's him driving the car, not the AI, which puts Tesla in a damned if it did, damned if it didn't kind of situation. Maybe so, but after the driver "is there for legal reasons" debacle a few years ago, you'd expect the company to have learned its lesson.

Except you'd be hopelessly wrong. Instead, Tesla decided to publish this clip where there is zero interaction between a pair of hands and the vehicle's steering wheel. The least it could have done was to include a simple disclaimer to make it clear to thos watching that not everyone shouldn expect a similar experience under real-world conditions. Something along the lines of: "The software of this vehicle is set in Elon Mode (allegedly, we can't know for sure, it could be a new one called Super Elon for what we know), a feature not available to the wide public, which enables the FSD Beta to function without the need for keeping the hands on the wheel at all times. However, it was only done for promotional purposes and, therefore should not be replicated on public roads. Even under these circumstances, the driver remained alert throughout the entire trip and was ready to intervene at all times." Or any other short text that shows a bit of sense.

Adding a disclaimer, as well as having the person in the clip touch the steering wheel, would indeed chip away at some of the clip's wow-factor, and we know Tesla is all about the wow. However, perhaps there's a reason why advertising a so-called self-driving system this way while sticking to all the legal and moral constraints is tricky, and Tesla should have taken the hint. But it didn't. Again.

As a result, some people are now calling for the company to remove the hands-on-wheel alerts for everyone and describing them as "nagging." It's a safety feature that could save the lives of those in the car and on the road, but now that, thanks to Tesla's clip, they've had a taste of what life would be like without it, it's hard to go back to those annoying beeps and chimes. It's only human nature to want comfort, and the video suggests rightly or wrongly that it could be had.

I'm not one to call for a more hands-on approach from the authorities, but if there is one area where they should get more involved, it's this. You can't leave profit-led companies to make the rules themselves because whenever public safety and revenues find themselves in the balance, it's the latter that will always come out on top. And, if you accept the fact that a CEO's duty is to maximize the value of their company, you can't even necessarily blame them.

At the moment, it looks as though the EU is the only one capable of asking some questions of Elon Musk, and, if Twitter is anything to go by, his answer seems to be packing up all of his toys and leaving. Doing that with Tesla, though, no matter how small the European market is compared to the North American and Asian ones, might prove a lot more difficult. That's because it may not bring as much money, but going on the home turf of brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche and beating them does earn you a lot of prestige, which can be just as good.

It's obvious to anyone by this point that Tesla will not change its ways unless forced to, and the only ones who can do that are the powers that be, and the public. The former appears to take its time over the matter, while the latter is split between those who don't care, and those who think putting an owl on a display (admittedly, a very beautifully done owl) is "genius" - which is another way of saying they will eat up anything Musk-related without any questions. Neither of these groups has any interest or desire to mess with Telsa's antics, which leaves us, presumably a small minority, to make as much noise as possible. So, go take your virtual megaphone and get to it.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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