Elon Musk says (again) Tesla might achieve ‘full autonomy’ this year, but what does it even mean?

Elon Musk announced again that he believes Tesla might achieve “full autonomy” this year, but it is not even clear what this means at this point.

Over the years, Musk has so often claimed that Tesla was on the verge of achieving “full self-driving capability” that it is hard to believe him now.

It’s not only hard to believe, but it’s also even hard to understand what the actual goal is at this point.

Tesla’s original promise was quite clear: Every car sold since 2016 will be able to drive entirely by itself at a level safer than humans through software updates in the future.

At times, “level 5 SAE” autonomy was mentioned by Musk, and being able to “go to sleep” while the car drives you around.

But since Tesla released its Full Self-Driving Beta (FSD Beta), these previous clear goals have become more vague and disappointing.

Tesla started using terms like “feature complete” and “capable of driving at a level safer than humans,” with FSD Beta, but it has become less clear how Tesla plans to get the FSD out of beta and into a product that can actually have usefulness, like a robot taxi service.

It looks like Tesla has softened its language after missing its goal and timeline a few times, and Musk has most recently stopped making timeline predictions until now.

During the conference call following the release of Tesla Q1 2023 financial results, Musk claimed that Tesla might achieve “full autonomy” this year:

For those that are using the FSD beta, I think you can see the improvements are really quite dramatic. There’ll be a little bit of two steps forward, one step back between releases for those trying the beta. But the trend is very clearly towards full self-driving, towards full autonomy. And I hesitate to say this, but I think we’ll do it this year.

The CEO is back with his prediction that it is coming “this year,” something that he has virtually said every year since 2018.

But what does he even consider “full autonomy” for Tesla at this point?

Electrek’s Take

That’s the bigger question for me because lately, it seems that he is only talking about FSD Beta driving better or safer than humans but based on what?

It’s clear that he is not talking about Tesla having a level 4 or 5 autonomous driving system approved by regulatory authorities, which was the original promise.

He is only talking about FSD Beta achieving a greater level of driving that he or Tesla considers safer than humans.

That’s not saying much because he keeps praising FSD Beta as if it’s incredible and many other FSD Beta users and I are not experiencing that incredible performance or the “quite dramatic” rate of improvements that he keeps talking about.

I’ve had FSD Beta for a year now, and I think the latest update is performing marginally better than the first version I got last year.

So unless he is talking about a more concrete goal like Tesla being approved for a robot taxi-like service, like Cruise and Waymo, with existing customer vehicles, I think Tesla achieving “full autonomy” might be not what people are hoping for.