Tesla Recalls ‘Self-Driving’ Software Update That Made Cars ‘Undrivable’

For a little more than a day, thousands of Teslas had software causing some cars to slam on their brakes for no apparent reason.
Elon Musk
Photo: Picture Alliance via Getty
Screen Shot 2021-02-24 at 3
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Over the weekend, Tesla rolled out a new version of Full Self-Driving Beta to thousands of cars that was so full of safety-critical bugs it was uninstalled by the company within 36 hours. 

The software, version 10.3, rolled out Friday to Teslas enrolled in the FSD Beta program with a Safety Score of 99 or better, a metric that can easily be gamed. On Saturday, Elon Musk tweeted, “Regression in some left turns at traffic lights found by internal QA in 10.3. Fix in work, probably releasing tomorrow.” But that was not the biggest problem with 10.3. A few hours later, he said the company was “rolling back to 10.2 temporarily” after “seeing some issues with 10.3.”

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What was the problem? According to hundreds of comments on the subreddit r/Teslamotors, the biggest issue appeared to be that the car’s forward collision warning (FCW) system stopped functioning properly, warning drivers of imminent crashes when there was plenty of distance or even no cars around at all. Several commenters said the car slammed on the brakes for no reason multiple times on short drives, almost causing them to get hit from behind. One commenter said, “I’ve had entirely too many phantom forward collision warnings and it is undrivable in its current state.” The bug affected the car’s FCW system even when Full Self-Driving mode was not enabled. 

Because Musk has disbanded Tesla’s public relations department and functionally made himself the company’s spokesperson, here is what he said about this release: “Please note, this is to be expected with beta software. It is impossible to test all hardware configs in all conditions with internal QA, hence public beta.”

Tesla and its fans have long used the “it’s a beta, bugs are expected, it will get better” line to justify missteps, bugs, and half-baked ideas like the Safety Score (also a beta). That’s all well and good when talking about a weather app’s beta program to get the latest redesign. It’s another matter entirely for safety-critical software. Other car companies, airplane manufacturers, and similar industries of course have beta software as well, but it gets tested in private before rolling out to the public for precisely this reason.

Federal regulators are increasingly interested in Tesla’s software because of the company’s cavalier attitude towards using public roads as testing grounds for unproven technology that can radically change in capability from one software update to the next. The very existence of a “public beta” on safety critical software exemplifies the problem. 

Tesla supporters like to argue the company is unfairly maligned by detractors for being on the vanguard of a revolution. But if any car company sent out a software update that made thousands of its vehicles dangerous to drive, NHTSA would be asking questions of them, too.

Early Monday morning, Musk tweeted, “10.3.1 rolling out now.”