Tesla’s future is dependent on the company’s ability to solve autonomous driving, according to cofounder and world’s richest person Elon Musk.
Musk has been promising to deliver a self-driving car for the better part of a decade—but Tesla does not, as yet, offer a fully self-driving vehicle. While its cars now come with driver assistance known as “autopilot” mode, they are not yet capable of controlling themselves with zero input from drivers.
But according to an anonymous security researcher and hacker with a sizable online following, Teslas are already capable of driving themselves—if you know how to tinker with them.
In a series of tweets, an anonymous Tesla Model X owner, who goes by the Twitter handle @greentheonly, said they had uncovered a way of putting their Tesla into what they labeled “Elon Mode”—an autopilot setting that comes without “the dreaded nag.”
The existing autopilot or full self-driving (FSD) modes on Teslas require drivers to intermittently put pressure on the steering wheel to prove they are paying attention to the road. Drivers are prompted to do so by a symbol and flashing on the touch screen; if they fail to grab the steering wheel, the visual prompt escalates to a beeping sound. The car’s autopilot system can be disabled for several weeks if the driver still does not comply with the car instructing them to put their hands on the wheel.
Last year, Musk promised Tesla would start removing the autopilot system’s so-called nagging from January—but the company has not yet followed through. He said earlier this year that the company was “gradually reducing it,” in line with safety requirements.
The hacker, “Green”—who has built up a reputation for finding new Tesla features before the company officially rolls them out—said they had driven almost 600 miles on the so-called Elon Mode.
‘A solid deal’
While the hacker said overall they were happy with the experience, they pointed out a few flaws with the technology, such as its refusal to overtake slower vehicles, its struggles with road debris and potholes, and unnecessary lane changes.
In 2022, Tesla hiked the price of its FSD software suite from $12,000 to $15,000, or a monthly subscription fee of $199.
“If they offer this as L3 where I don’t need to pay attention, it would be a solid deal at $15K,” the hacker tweeted last week in their review of “Elon Mode.”
L3 refers to “level three” autonomous driving, which allows “conditional” self-driving, meaning the car will take over from the driver only in certain conditions like traffic jams. Mercedes is the only carmaker to have achieved certification for L3 driving in the United States.
Tesla, meanwhile, is still certified at level two (L2), as the company has battled with a series of headaches related to its FSD technology.
In February of this year, Tesla issued a voluntary recall for 362,758 vehicles that were equipped with its FSD Beta software, warning that the system “may cause crashes.”
A month earlier, Tesla revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had requested documents about its FSD software.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into Tesla’s autopilot system last year following fatal crashes in Florida and California.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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