Tesla has confirmed the EV carmaker has begun to upload videos from models equipped with its latest flavor of Autopilot, as Tesla seeks to "fleet source" data to help improve its cars' machine learning capabilities.
Customers were recently put on notice about the project when an in-car popup message on the display began to appear last month. Tesla owners also have had the opportunity to cancel the video uploads from their cars.
Tesla hopes it video uploads will improve upon Autopilot's self-drive features. The video data uploaded to a collective data pool can be used to make the machine-taught software that much smarter. Videos taken by several cars, at different times, of signposts and other objects along the same streets and roads can be analyzed and cross-referenced for more accurate 3D maps.
A Tesla spokesperson would not offer any more details about how the data will be used except to say the videos will help to improve Autopilot's self-drive features.
We are working hard to improve autonomous safety features and make self-driving a reality for customers as soon as possible. In order to do so, we need to collect short video clips using the car's external cameras to learn how to recognize things like lane lines, street signs, and traffic light positions. The more fleet learning of road conditions we are able to do, the better your Tesla's self-driving ability will become.
In a statement, Tesla also addressed privacy concerns among Tesla owners possibly concerned about uploads of videos taken while driving.
We want to be super clear that these short video clips are not linked to a customer's vehicle identification number. In order to protect customer privacy, we have ensured that there is no way to search our system for clips that are associated with a specific car. Customers can enable or disable the collection of these clips at any time.
It is difficult to quantify the amount of video data the cars will upload. (A Tesla spokesperson would not specify the exact number of cars inolved in the project or how much video the company expects to upload).
The cars that will upload the videos are limited to models Tesla began to make in October 16 of last year with its latest version of Autopilot. In the fourth quarter of 2016, Tesla said it made 24,882 units of its Model S and Model X models, but those production numbers include cars made with the previous version of Autopilot until October 15 of that year.
Tesla reported making 25,000 vehicles in the first quarter of this year and will likely produce a similar number of models this quarter. The total number of Tesla vehicles uploading videos is thus roughly over 60,000 units, while the total should jump when the electric car firm begins production of its Model 3 shortly.
Meanwhile, Google began uploading visual data over a decade ago that Waymo uses from over five million miles its cars have driven as part of its "Ground Truth" project. Other carmakers actively pursuing self-driving development, including GM Cruise, Ford, Waymo, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo, have yet to disclose their cars' number of mapping miles.
Tesla has also been actively uploading data taken with radar sensors to improve fleet learning capabilities since last year. Tesla described last year how if several cars, for example, record objects but continue to drive past them safely, the zone then becomes part of a safe route for self-driving, which Tesla calls a geocoded whitelist in its 3D maps database.
Tesla's initiative aside, worldwide regulatory approval of Level 4 driving will require that car fleets around the world travel billions of miles. As Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote last year in a blog post, over 3 million miles worldwide of fleet learning for driverless takes place every day, but over 6 billion miles will likely be required before driverless cars can legally become commercially available on a wide scale. This means Tesla's project is indeed ambitious in today's nascent stage of the driverless industry, but in a few years, it will likely be listed as a footnote in the driverless revolution.