Auto Tech

Tesla tested zero autonomous cars on California roads in 2017

It claims all its AV work was done in simulations and something called "shadow mode."

Tesla

Every year, autonomous-car developers must submit a report to the California DMV about its "disengagements," or times when the human backup had to take control on public roads. We covered Waymo's report already, but Tesla's is far more interesting, because it... didn't do anything?

"For Reporting Year 2017, Tesla did not test any vehicles on public roads in California in autonomous mode, as defined by California law," the company wrote in its annual required update to the Golden State's automotive authority. "As such, the Company did not experience any autonomous mode disengagements as part of the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program in California."

Tesla wants you to plunk down $5,000 now for the promise of full self-driving capability when you order a Model 3. When will it arrive, you ask? Why, that's a very good question.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

If that sounds strange, it should, but that doesn't mean Tesla ignored autonomy entirely during 2017. Tesla's report only covers autonomous-mode testing done on California's public roads. The automaker noted in its letter that it tested AV systems in simulations and labs, as well as on test tracks and public roads outside of California.  

Tesla also uses what it calls "shadow mode," which sounds super-nefarious but really isn't. Every car equipped with Tesla's full suite of cameras and sensors is capable of operating in this mode, wherein it captures sensor data and simulates driving decisions without any actual effect in the real world. The company claims it's captured "billions of miles of real-world driving data" in shadow mode thus far.

It's still strange that Tesla didn't bother to test its forthcoming AV capabilities on public California roads, though. A fan of conspiracy theories might posit that Tesla avoided this specific testing regimen because it didn't want an embarrassing disengagement report -- this time last year, the company reported approximately one disengagement per three autonomous miles driven, in comparison to Waymo's report of one disengagement per 5,000 autonomous miles driven. Buzz, your girlfriend, woof.

Whatever the reason, Tesla doesn't feel like talking about it. "The report we filed is the extent of our comment," a Tesla spokesman said via email.