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Electric vehicle maker Tesla is poised to expand its controversial FSD Beta program with a long-awaited download button that would allow customers to get new, unfinished versions of the company’s driver assistance software to test on public roads even though that software hasn’t been debugged yet.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who called a previous version of FSD Beta software “not great,” cautioned Friday evening that FSD Beta now seems so good it can give drivers a false sense of security that they don’t need to pay attention to driving while FSD Beta is engaged, even though they do have to remain attentive and at the wheel.
Tesla and CEO Musk didn’t immediately respond to CNBC for comment.
Tesla markets its driver assistance systems in a standard package called Autopilot, and a premium package called FSD, short for Full Self-Driving in the U.S. Neither of these systems make Tesla’s cars autonomous, according to the company’s users’ manuals and website.
Musk has been promising his fans an FSD Beta button for at least six months. On March 9, 2021, he wrote: “Build 8.3 of FSD should be done QA testing by end of next week, so that’s roughly when download button should show up.”
The CEO also revealed Thursday that Tesla will require owners who use the forthcoming Beta button to prove they are good drivers first, before getting access to their FSD Beta download.
Musk wrote: “Beta button will request permission to assess driving behavior using Tesla insurance calculator. If driving behavior is good for 7 days, beta access will be granted.” (The company began selling insurance in its home state of California in August 2019.)
Tesla board member, Hiromichi Mizuno, shared Musk’s announcement and touted the company’s approach, writing on Friday: “You must be a good driver not to drive, which may become a new norm.”
Musk replied to Mizuno Friday night:
“Ironically, yes at this time. FSD beta system at times can seem so good that vigilance isn’t necessary, but it is. Also, any beta user who isn’t super careful will get booted.2000 beta users operating for almost a year with no accidents. Needs to stay that way.”
Musk’s tweet contradicts facts about the FSD Beta program conveyed in the California Department of Motor Vehicles Autonomous Vehicles Branch memo written in March 2021.
The DMV’s Autonomous Vehicles Branch Chief Miguel Acosta, who wrote the memo, spoke with Tesla employees on that date, including associate general counsel Eric Williams and Autopilot software director CJ Moore.
Acosta wrote that they informed him the FSD Beta program as of March 9, 2021, included 753 Tesla employees and 71 non-employees — less than half of the 2,000 FSD Beta users Musk alluded to in his tweet on Friday.
CNBC directly obtained the memo and other correspondence between Tesla and the California DMV, which were published earlier by Plainsite, a legal transparency website.
In their correspondence, Tesla characterized even their newest FSD Beta features as a Level 2 driver assistance system, rather than fully driverless technology.