What Is Tesla Full Self-Driving?

Tesla FSD is more capable than Autopilot, but it doesn’t make a car autonomous.

Tesla Model Y Driver Behind WheelKeiron Berndt/Capital One

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For years, Tesla has taken a unique approach to high-tech features in its vehicles. When it comes to Tesla’s highest-level driver-assistance program, confusingly named Full Self-Driving Capability, consumers should pay close attention to the details.

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Capability is not actually able to fully self-drive the car. Drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road when using it. Tesla clearly states on its website that the FSD features currently available require “active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.” Instead of fully self-driving capabilities, FSD offers a number of driver-assistance benefits, including these four main features:

  • Auto Lane Change: assists in moving the car to an adjacent lane on the highway
  • Autopark: automatically parks the car in parallel or perpendicular spaces
  • Summon: pulls the car into a tight parking space or moves it out of that space without anyone at the wheel. The feature is controlled through the Tesla mobile app or the key fob
  • Smart Summon: this is as close as a Tesla comes to true autonomy, navigating relatively complex parking environments to bring the vehicle to the person holding the key or the controlling smartphone
Two more FSD features are currently in beta mode and require even greater vigilance from the driver:
  • Traffic and Stop Sign Control: identifies stop signs and traffic lights in order to automatically slow down and stop the car
  • Navigate on Autopilot: guides the Tesla from on-ramp to off-ramp on a highway. The car will make lane changes and navigate interchanges as long as the driver maintains a hand on the steering wheel
Additionally, Tesla plans to introduce Autosteer on City Streets, and is currently letting select customers test the feature in what’s widely referred to as Tesla’s FSD Beta.

FSD is available on every new Tesla electric vehicle, including the Model SModel YModel X, and Model 3, but the hardware used can vary. Every new Tesla vehicle comes with eight external cameras and twelve ultrasonic sensors. On Model 3 and Model Y vehicles sold in North America, these sensors are what the cars use for Autopilot and FSD. Tesla calls the technology, which also uses a neural net, Tesla Vision. Model S and Model X electric vehicles come with radar sensors, too.

In 2016, Tesla announced that every car it produced would have all the necessary hardware for what it calls Full Self-Driving. But just having the hardware isn't enough: You also need to pay Tesla to turn FSD on. No matter which model you buy, Tesla is, as of March, 2022, charging $12,000 for FSD capability—after raising the price to $10,000 in October, 2020. Tesla owners can alternatively subscribe to FSD for either $99 or $199 per month, depending on whether the car in question has Basic Autopilot ($199) or Enhanced Autopilot ($99) enabled.
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Sebastian Blanco
Sebastian Blanco has been writing about electric vehicles, hybrids, and hydrogen cars since 2006. His first green-car media event was the launch of the first Tesla Roadster in 2006, an event where he almost elbowed Arnold Schwarzenegger in the groin. Since then, he has been tracking the shift away from gasoline-powered vehicles and discovering the new technology's importance not just for the auto industry, but for the world as a whole.