This is part of a series that covers my experience with a Tesla Model Y.
I saw this bet appear on Twitter between John Carmack and Jeff Atwood:
It’s quite a statement, and it leaves just over 7 years for this to come true. I do wonder if they’ve defined this well, as I don’t know if many people really think about what Level 5 means.
I ran across an article recently from someone who’s owned a model 3, titled: Tesla Full Self Driving Beta: How Close To Level 5 Autonomy? As I read it, I felt that a lot of the items it listed were things I see wrong with either the AutoPilot I have, or things I’ve seen from other users that are using the Full Self Driving (FSD). There is also an SAE infographic.
Disclosure: I haven’t tried the FSD, but I am interested in subscribing for a month at some point and seeing what I think.
What is Level 5?
Level 5 driving is full automation, with no need for a human. To me, this means I could put my infant in the car and it would make it to a hospital without me being in the car in any weather. I’m not sure how many people would want to go through that test, but that’s what it says.
It also says “They will be free from geofencing”, which would mean go anywhere. In terms of the bet above, I am guessing this means they can go anywhere in the city on any day of the year?
I do think the self-driving is more possible in cities, where the mapping and understanding of the structures and roads is well known. Cities are generally well marked with regards to traffic indicators, lines, lights, etc., but not always.
I have always believed that self-driving needs to happen in a well-mapped, well drawn city. I don’t know that New York fits the bill. London has the congestion zone, which may or may not work, but really, I think a city like Chicago with relatively wide lanes, things well marked, etc., is a good choice. I wouldn’t pick Chicago because of the potholes and repairs in parts of the city, but maybe somewhere like Singapore or Melbourne would work well.
The key here is well marked and known. There will be weather, like snow or heavy rain, that will cause problems with vision based systems. It can also cause issues with radar as well. It already does with human drivers, but we are used to that. I don’t know we’d have the same tolerance for mistakes and accidents from self-driving cars.
I think it’s much more likely we get Level 4, which is mostly autonomous, but with some restrictions on when the self-driving works. For example, perhaps not in a blizzard.
I also think that outside of cities, it’s unlikely we’ll see self-driving anytime in the next decade. I think about my rural roads, some of which have no paint markers. Or mountain roads where the road disappears in the winter. I think about the West Ireland roads, driving from Cork to Baltimore, where the road literally isn’t wide enough for two cars and passing requires a little swerve into the bushes that are overgrown at the edge of the road.
I really don’t know that we can adequately model all these situations to make them self-driving level 5.
Personally, however, I’d be happy if we set some self-driving lanes, like half the highway where the car takes over for you and handles merging into the self-driving lane and out of it, after which a human takes over. Or perhaps some geo-fencing where most cars are self-driving (cities).
I’m not sure the tech is good enough to be unbounded, nor do I think most people would find this acceptable when there are mistakes.
A Good Bet?
Is this a good bet? Probably. There are already self-driving taxis in a few cities, including Beijing where there is no human at the wheel.
Plus, we humans have a history of letting technology loose before it’s really developed.