has been forced to reveal more info about its so-called secret ‘Elon mode’
- The NHTSA has been investigating the company over safety concerns since 2021
- Tesla’s share price has boosted this week thanks to the autonomous tech news
Tesla might be about to face the music on its self-driving technology after a secret so-called ‘Elon mode’ that removes a critical safety feature was discovered. With the NHTSA demanding more info on how many drivers can access the feature, it’s not a good look for the world’s biggest EV maker that expressly says hands must be on the steering wheel at all times.
As Elon took to X to show off the shiny new tech, which was first talked about in 2016, the hype around full self-driving mode has reached a fever pitch – just in time for the federal authorities to pour cold water over it as a long-term investigation into Tesla’s FSD mode wraps up. Here’s what we know so far.
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Why is Tesla’s FSD mode in hot water?
Tesla has received a special order from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) demanding information about the EV car maker’s assisted driver systems and is particularly interested in the so-called ‘Elon mode’, named after the company’s eccentric CEO, Elon Musk.
Tesla has three driver assistance systems: Autopilot, Full Self-Driving or FSD Beta options. On each, a symbol blinks to prompt the driver to put their hands on the steering wheel, escalating in volume the longer it goes on and eventually shutting down the mode if there’s no steering wheel engagement. Elon mode? That doesn’t do any of that, allegedly.
The secret mode was discovered by a hacker in June, quickly catching other Tesla users’ attention. Naturally, the federal automotive safety regulators were alarmed to hear about this and alleged public knowledge of ‘Elon mode’ could get more Tesla owners trying to unlock the hidden feature and endanger more lives.
“The resulting relaxation of controls designed to ensure that the driver remain engaged in the dynamic driving task could lead to greater driver inattention and failure of the driver to properly supervise Autopilot,” the NHTSA letter stated.
Tesla had a deadline of August 25 to respond, with the NHTSA requesting details on how many cars had the mode activated and how easy it was to do so. Tesla responded by the deadline, though the details are kept schtum for now.
Musk livestreams FSD mode
Elon went live on X earlier this week to debut X’s newest livestream feature and show off the Tesla Autopilot V12 mode’s capabilities. In the 45-minute video, the Tesla is seen automatically slowing down for speedbumps, navigating roundabouts and easily making left turns.
The technology runs on neural networks and AI after Tesla shifted towards the ‘codeless’ tech in 2020. On the livestream, Musk claimed the neural networks were “doing [the driving] based entirely on video training” and that “It can read signs without ever being told to read”.
Throughout the entire 45-minute livestream, Elon only had to make one intervention when the Tesla tried to run a red light at a busy intersection. Driving a Tesla Model S, which has the Hardware 3 computer installed as standard, there’s a newer Hardware 4 model with a faster computer and more cameras to assist the AI mode better.
The tech is still in development, though Elon mentioned that v12 wouldn’t be a beta version. Tesla rolled out FSD Beta v11.4.7 earlier this week, though the controversial CEO also commented that 12 FSD test drivers worldwide are driving around with the experimental model.
Another red flag for the NHTSA’s investigation
Fun fact: the NHTSA has been investigating Tesla’s full self-driving mode since 2021. The probe initially kicked off over concerns that the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) were causing users to drive unsafely.
The NHTSA upgraded the investigation last year to a full engineering analysis due to concerns over Tesla’s Autopilot systems “[exacerbating] human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of the driver’s supervision”.
The real issue? Marketing and hype. Musk and Tesla advertise the driving modes as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, but both are formally classified as Level 2 in vehicle automation. Level 3 automation is considered fully autonomous with a human override possible, and other car makers, like luxury car maker BMW, are beating Tesla to the chase in this arena.
The NHTSA has already taken steps to keep Tesla in line, ordering the world’s biggest EV maker back in February to recall and update FSD software in what’s reported to be over 360,000 vehicles after a bug had the potential to cause cars to skip red and yellow lights.
To make things worse, Tesla engineers have now sworn under oath that Tesla knew about the safety defects for the Autopilot feature but didn’t do anything about it. The testimony formed part of the civil lawsuit against Tesla concerning the death of a Tesla driver in 2019.
Elon’s livestream won’t have helped things, given it wasn’t always clear that he had his hands on the wheel at all times. The NHTSA probably views that as a nice piece of video evidence into precisely what they’re investigating.
What was the market reaction?
Tesla’s share price has rallied 7.6% in the last five days as excitement over the livestream and FSD modes mounted, news of a $300 million AI cluster partnership with Nvidia, and a helpful boost from BYD’s stellar earnings beat.
The stock is up 137% this year so far after the market suffered a three-week downward spiral in August.
The bottom line
Tesla has always had grand ambitions to introduce fully autonomous vehicles to the world, though these latest hiccups aren’t going to help the overall image around bringing the tech to the masses.
As far as investors are concerned, Tesla is leading the charge on innovation and has the fanbase to bring the world of EVs and fully autonomous cars powered by neural networks and AI to the world. The fly in the ointment could be the NHTSA’s investigation, which is said to wrap up soon.
Despite the regulatory snags, the hype around Tesla’s full self-driving mode is one of the reasons the stock performs so well. You can get your portfolio onto sustainability opportunities with Q.ai’s Clean Tech Kit. Focusing on electric vehicles and renewable energy, the Kit offers a curated selection of high-potential stocks and ETFs.
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