Elon said at the Tesla Shareholder Meeting that he was personally testing an Enhanced Autopilot build that drove autonomously from highway onramp to offramp with no input from him. He said the feature set could be released in a few months (i.e. 2069 A.D.). This is still Level 2 autonomy since it requires driver monitoring and occasional intervention when the system is doing something wrong. But requiring no driver input (including no interventions) on most highway trips would be a huge milestone in autonomy development. The SAE levels of automation don’t capture this axis of improvement. The feature set for full autonomy (Level 4) on the highway would be complete, but not yet at a level of safety or reliability where the human can stop babysitting the system. From there, it’s just a matter of time until the safety and reliability improve to the point that fully autonomous driving on the highway is better than the average human driver. Progress on autonomous driving seems to be happening at a rapid exponential rate, at least on some metrics. For example, Cruise Automation reduced its disengagement rate by 14x in one year. Compare that to Moore’s law, where the number of transistors on an integrated circuit have historically increased 2x every 1.5 to 2 years. So, releasing an Enhanced Autopilot build that can do highway onramp to offramp with no driver input (most of the time) starts the clock on fully autonomous highway driving. It also starts the clock on Level 2 driving with no driver input (most of the time) in other settings, like suburban streets, city streets, and rural roads. Highways are the easiest setting to crack. But once highways are cracked, it seems like it’s only a series of incremental steps beyond that to do rural roads, which are sparsely trafficked and seldom have pedestrians. And from rural roads, it seems like only another series of incremental steps to suburban streets, like those that Waymo is driving on in the Phoenix metro area. The streets tend to be wide, simple, and vehicles and pedestrians are relatively sparse. Speed limits are low. That’s why the Enhanced Autopilot build that Tesla is testing seems like a really important milestone to me. I feel that is perhaps unknowable (at least to me, a layperson) or at least highly uncertain which two scenarios is more likely: 1) Elon’s hyperaggressive view that superhuman full autonomy in all settings and conditions will be commercially ready by the end of 2019 or 2) full autonomy won’t materialize anytime within the next 10 years. An update that enables Teslas to drive with (mostly) no driver input on highways would tilt things, in my mind, sharply toward Scenario 1. Even if Elon is being characteristically premature in his timeline, I could buy the idea that he’s only a year or so off. I could even see it as possible that he’s exactly right. The same is true, by the way, if Waymo or Cruise can launch a genuine, commercial, public ride-hailing service in a limited area. One caveat there is how much the service relies on remote human operators. With Enhanced Autopilot, there appears to be virtuous cycle wherein as soon as the highway babysitter mode can deployed at a level of development where it improves safety, there will be a deluge of data from production cars that allows the babysitter system to be improved more rapidly than before. (On the assumption that the factor limiting improvement is collecting and labelling data.) The improvement in smoothness, safety, and reliability will embolden more Tesla owners to enable it and contribute more data. Presumably, some of that data will generalize to other driving settings. If a babysitter mode can be activated for other settings, the same virtuous cycle will begin there too. Based on this reasoning, an update enabling what Elon described is the event I’m most eagerly anticipating for Tesla, beyond even profitability or a smooth Model 3 ramp. It would be a historic achievement of computer science. I think it would also be one of two possible indicators that full autonomy is for real and coming soon (a limited autonomous ride-hailing service being the other). If this really can happen in 2018, I’ll be so insanely excited.