Tesla Autopilot Completes Another Zero Intervention Drive from Los Angeles to Silicon Valley

On New Year’s Eve 2020, we shared video of the first known Autopilot drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles with zero interventions. This news was reported by Teslarati and Engadget, among others. Now, we’ve released a new video showing the same Tesla Model 3 driving back from Los Angeles to Silicon Valley, also with no interventions. The drive started outside SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles, and ended at an apartment complex in San Jose.

A zero intervention drive from San Francisco all the way to Los Angeles is impressive. But the fact that the car was able to also drive back to Silicon Valley without any interventions at all? That’s just stunning.

At first I thought I must have gotten lucky with so few interventions on the way down to Los Angeles, but seeing that Tesla’s Autopilot FSD beta was just as successful on the return trip suggests that this feat should be fairly easy to repeat by anyone with a Tesla running FSD who wants to try it. I don’t think it will be zero interventions every time, and most people will want to disengage for a variety of reasons over a long road trip, most of which are unrelated to safety. However, the software is getting good enough that recreating this is only going to get easier for Tesla customers.

This new video is actually even better than the drive down to LA for a number of reasons:

First, I adjusted the camera angle to show the steering wheel. Some YouTube commenters said they wouldn’t believe Autopilot was controlling the car unless they could see the steering wheel. Experienced Autopilot users know that the blue steering wheel icon indicates no human control but actually seeing the steering wheel will make this immediately obvious to anyone who watches, whether or not they’re familiar with Tesla Autopilot.

Secondly, this trip was made with only one charging stop in Kettleman City. The previous trip required two stops, at Firebaugh and Kettleman City. Two stops is actually a tougher challenge for FSD since each stop requires getting off the highway on time and navigating rural areas. However, one charging stop is more “automatic” in the sense that the human has to do even less than on a two-stop trip. Since I made sure the car was fully charged before leaving this time, the trip was easily completed with a single charging stop. In total there was only 1 minute and 15 seconds of human control in this five and a half hour drive. (That was the time it took to park in the supercharger stall, plug the car in, and then unplug and drive back onto the street). That’s just incredible no matter how you try to spin it — and pretty soon even that 1:15 will be automated as well.

(Boston Dynamics is now selling their Spot Robot to anyone who wants one for about $75,000. I think Tesla should buy one of these and keep it at the Kettleman City Supercharger station to plug in and unplug cars. For 40 – 56 stall locations like Kettleman City and Firebaugh that’s only $1,340 – $1,875 per charging stall. That plus the ability to “reverse summon” a Tesla into an available Supercharger stall should enable someone (or no one!) to complete this drive with zero human intervention of any kind. The Spot Robot could be waiting at the Supercharger station, or jump out of the trunk of a Tesla equipped with power trunk. Of course, a simpler way to do this would be to run FSD on a 400 mile Model S or other similar Tesla that is capable of making the entire drive without a charging stop.)

Finally, as I noted in the previous blog post the first video did have a brief moment where I had to quickly move into another lane to avoid a huge piece of debris in the road. The car in front of mine moved out of the way quickly to avoid the debris, so it was approaching fast from the time it first became visible and I didn’t want to wait and see if the FSD beta would react properly. I ended up quickly moving the car over myself. It killed me to do it since the drive had been going perfectly before that, but of course not hitting anything is the number 1 priority. This happened after the car arrived in Los Angeles so it did technically make it from San Francisco to Los Angeles with 0 intervention, but it wasn’t truly zero intervention from start to final destination. This new video is. From the time I engaged outside SpaceX to the time I disengaged at the destination outside my friend’s apartment, Autopilot controlled the car for the entire drive. All I had to do was charge the car once it arrived at the Kettleman City Supercharger station.

As far as I’m aware, this is the first recorded instance of computer vision based software — neural networks trained with deep learning and fleetwide data collection — driving across California without intervention in holiday traffic. If not, it’s the first recorded instance of Tesla Autopilot doing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tesla has done this themselves many times internally, but if they have they’ve never announced it to the public or shown video.

Despite this milestone, this is not the end of the battle for autonomy. Far from it — this is just the beginning. By making these videos I do not mean to suggest that FSD is perfect and is never going to make any mistakes. I don’t even think that every drive across California is going to have zero interventions. Driver attention is still going to be very important in the coming years, now more than ever.

However, what’s clear is that the software is improving fast without any hardware changes to Tesla’s cars. Later this year, over a million Teslas will awaken with this capability at the push of a button. Completing a cross California drive with zero interventions would not have been possible with earlier builds of the FSD beta — there were just too many mistakes on the city streets portions of the trip. It was bad enough that I didn’t even bother recording most times I did the drive. Now, zero intervention drives like this one across California and across America will only become more and more commonplace, until they’re completely old news. I wonder who will be the first person to successfully complete a trip from Los Angeles to New York? I’m not sure the software is there yet (especially with reports that the FSD beta is more rough on the East Coast), but I bet someone could pull it off sometime in 2021 if they really wanted to.

Tesla and Autopilot always draw in lots of haters, so I’m sure some people will criticize me for not having my hands on the wheel the whole time in the video. Normally I always keep my hands on the wheel while using Autopilot or FSD, but in this case I wanted people to be able to see that the car was driving itself, for educational purposes. If I kept my hand on the wheel the whole time it wouldn’t have had the same effect.

As you can see in the video, I did touch the wheel throughout the drive to let Autopilot know that I was paying attention and to pass through the system’s required attention checks. The important thing isn’t holding the wheel, it’s making sure you’re paying close attention and are ready to take over at any time. That has always been my number 1 priority and I have never had any accidents in over 69,000 miles of Autopilot use. Similarly, some people may say it was unsafe not to take over in certain situations over the course of these two drives, but the fact is that I was paying very close attention ready to take over at any moment, and did react instantly when debris suddenly appeared on the road. Note that in 800 miles of driving between these two videos, there were no collisions despite the software making a few mistakes. The bottom line is that Autopilot is the biggest leap in automotive safety since the seatbelt, and I always take extreme care when using and testing it, as do the other beta testers.

Enjoy the FSD videos on YouTube. For people who want to nitpick over all the little details, I’m uploading the raw 1x footage of this 5.5 hour drive to YouTube as soon as it finishes rendering, and will update this post to include that video when it’s live.

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