Elon Musk, who is definitely not making this up as he goes, finally clarified what the hell this whole ‘beta’ thing means, and gave it a solid ending point at one billion miles.
Musk made his point in his favorite manner – by criticizing a Fortune article on Twitter:
The Fortune article ‘Germany Would Not Have Approved Beta-Phase Tesla Autopilot’ notes that Germany’s Federal Motor Vehicle Authority (KBA) is less than enthused about Tesla’s ‘beta’ nomenclature. According to Fortune and an article from the German Welt am Sonntag and would not approve any system so described:
“If the word beta-phase means an incomplete status of the software, the KBA would not authorise (such) a functionality,” the newspaper quoted the KBA as saying.
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That was the impetus for Musk finally hopping online and clarifying when exactly Tesla expects to end its ‘beta.’ Musk also clarified what Tesla means when it says ‘beta.’
He was even more direct about beta here:
This is at least a formal recognition that categorizing their system as beta is more to manage expectations than actually manage use. And, as far as we’re aware, it’s the first time he’s ever actually clarified when the beta test could end (though if you know of a time he’s said it elsewhere, let us know.)
Traditionally a beta test is a limited release of a work in progress rather than a full release of something with limited capability.
Elon is well within his rights to take this kind of stance. He’s the boss; he gets to say what he thinks a beta is or isn’t. But Tesla certainly does have a history of calling things that aren’t beta as beta. Back in 2011, Tesla showed what the automotive industry would call a pre-production version of the Model S. Tesla decided to call it the ‘Model S Beta,” presumably because that sounds more Silicon Valley appropriate. Hey this isn’t a concept car like all the other automotive lames out there. This is a beta. We’re like a tech company. We’re cool.
We at Jalopnik actually brought this up with Tesla two years later in 2013 when we called the actual production Model S something of a public beta test. It’s easy to forget now, but the cars had a lot of trouble working right with door handles that didn’t open and other assorted quality issues. So we asked Musk about it and he responded that he didn’t think of his cars as in beta, nor did he see his customers as beta testers:
For his part, Elon Musk, aspiring space explorer and CEO of Tesla Motors, said that his company doesn’t look at the Model S as a beta, nor does it look at its customers as beta testers. Musk spoke with Jalopnik for this story and said that while he and his people are aware of these issues with the car, many of them — if not all, Musk claims — have been corrected through the latest firmware update, version 4.2.
“We’re not trying to outsource quality issues to our customers,” Musk said. “At least, not intentionally.”
So Tesla and Musk have a bit of a checkered history with the b-word. But it’s clear that now, as the company gets investigated in the aftermath of the first fatal Autopilot crash, the word is used more to protect the company and manage expectations than anything else. What will happen after those billion testing miles roll over after an estimated six months, we will have to wait and see.