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Tesla drivers can request FSD Beta with a button press, despite safety concerns

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Electric vehicle maker Tesla rolled out a long-awaited software update Friday night that allows customers to request access to its controversial Full Self-Driving Beta (FSD Beta) software.

The move delighted fans of CEO Elon Musk and Tesla, but it risks drawing the ire of federal vehicle safety authorities who are already investigating the automaker for possible safety defects in its driver-assistance systems.

FSD Beta is an unfinished version of Tesla’s premium driver-assistance software, FSD, which the company sells in the U.S. for $10,000 upfront, or $199 a month.

FSD is marketed with the promise of enabling a Tesla to automatically change lanes, navigate on the highway, move into a parking spot, or roll out from a parking spot to drive a small distance at a slow pace without anyone behind the wheel.

FSD Beta gives drivers access to an “autosteer on city streets” feature, which has yet to be perfected and enables drivers to automatically navigate around urban environments alongside other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and pets without moving the steering wheel with their own hands. Drivers are supposed to remain attentive, however, with both hands on the wheel and prepared to take over driving at any time.

None of Tesla’s driver assistance systems — including the company’s standard Autopilot package, premium Full Self-Driving option, or FSD Beta — make Teslas autonomous.

The company previously made FSD Beta available to about 2,000 people, a mix of mostly employees and some customers, who test it out on public roads even though the software hasn’t been debugged.

The new download button could ostensibly lead to a rapid expansion in the number of participants who are not trained regulatory officials.

Government response

Tesla CEO Elon Musk gestures as he visits the construction site of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, August 13, 2021.

Patrick Pleul | Reuters

Last week, when CEO Musk announced new details about the FSD beta button, Jennifer Homendy, the head of the National Transporation Safety Board, voiced concern over the company’s plans in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Homendy said, “Basic safety issues have to be addressed,” before Tesla expands FSD Beta to other city streets and regions. The NTSB chief was also displeased that the company was conducting testing of the unfinished product with untrained drivers on public roads in lieu of safety professionals.

Homendy also remarked — and in interviews with Autonocast, an industry podcast, and the Washington Post — that Tesla’s use of the term Full Self-Driving for a “level 2” driver assistance system is misleading and confusing.

Musk himself said last week in a tweet that FSD Beta now seems so good it can give drivers the wrong idea that they don’t need to pay attention to driving while FSD Beta is engaged, even though they are supposed to remain attentive and at the wheel at all times.

On Saturday, after Tesla enabled the “request full self-driving beta” feature in its vehicles — a fan blog named Teslarati shared a post on Twitter asking, “Does Tesla have a fair chance after NTSB Chief comments?”

Musk replied to them on Twitter with a link to the Wikipedia biography of Homendy. While Musk has previously urged his tens of millions of followers on Twitter to alter a description of his own career on Wikipedia, he shared this link to Homendy’s bio there without comment.

CNBC reached out to Tesla and the NTSB — neither was immediately available to comment on Saturday.

Safety score

Musk has been promising Tesla owners an FSD beta download button for months. In March 2021, he wrote in a tweet that the forthcoming button would give users access to the latest FSD Beta build as soon as their car connected to Wi-Fi.

He changed that approach, however. Now, Tesla has a calculator it uses to give drivers a “safety score,” and determine who will be allowed to get and use FSD Beta software.

Screen-shots shared with CNBC by Tesla owners with FSD indicate that the company’s “safety score” is akin to an insurance risk factor score.

Tesla’s systems tabulate a drivers’: “Predicted Collision Frequency, Forward Collision Warning per 1,000 Miles, Hard Braking, Aggressive Turning, Unsafe Following Time, and Forced Autopilot Disengagements,” according to correspondence and screenshots viewed by CNBC.

Tesla’s system does not, at this time, appear to measure and account for how often drivers fail to keep their hands on the wheel, how quickly they take over driving when prompted, or how consistently they keep their eyes on the road.

Only users who have a great driving record for a full week, in Tesla’s view, may gain access to FSD Beta.

Before Tesla released its FSD Beta button (and the 10.1 version of FSD Beta, which is expected this weekend, too) CNBC asked the California DMV Autonomous Vehicles Branch how pervasive and safe FSD Beta-equipped vehicles have been in use in the state so far.

The DMV declined an interview request but said, in an e-mailed statement:

“Based on information the information Tesla has provided the DMV, the feature does not make the vehicle an autonomous vehicle per California regulations. The DMV continues to gather information from Tesla on its beta release – including any expansion of the program and features.  If the capabilities of the feature change such that it meets the definition of an autonomous vehicle per California’s law and regulations, Tesla will need to operate under the appropriate regulatory authorization. Regardless of the level of vehicle autonomy, the DMV has reminded Tesla that clear and effective communication to the driver about the technology’s capabilities, limitations and intended use is necessary. The DMV is reviewing the company’s use of the term ‘Full Self-Driving’ for its technology. Because it is ongoing, the DMV cannot discuss the review until it is complete.”

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Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey says ‘hyperinflation’ will happen soon in the U.S. and the world

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Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and co-founder & CEO of Square, speaks during the crypto-currency conference Bitcoin 2021 Convention at the Mana Convention Center in Miami, Florida, on June 4, 2021.

Marco Bello | AFP | Getty Images

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey weighed in on escalating inflation in the U.S., saying things are going to get considerably worse.

“Hyperinflation is going to change everything,” Dorsey tweeted Friday night. “It’s happening.”

The tweet comes with consumer price inflation running near a 30-year high in the U.S. and growing concern that the problem could be worse that policymakers have anticipated.

On Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged that inflation pressures “are likely to last longer than previously expected,” noting that they could run “well into next year.” The central bank leader added that he expects the Fed soon to begin pulling back on the extraordinary measures it has provided to help the economy that critics say have stoked the inflation run.

In addition to overseeing a social media platform that has 206 million active daily users, Dorsey is a strong bitcoin advocate. He has said that Square, the debit and credit card processing platform that Dorsey co-founded, is looking at getting into mining the cryptocurrency. Square also owns some bitcoin and facilitates trading in it.

Responding to user comments, Dorsey added Friday that he sees the inflation problem escalating around the globe. “It will happen in the US soon, and so the world,” he tweeted. Dorsey is currently both the CEO of Twitter and Square.

It’s one thing to call for faster inflation, but it may be surprising to some that Dorsey used the word hyperinflation, a condition of rapidly rising prices that can ruin currencies and bring down whole economies.

Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones and others have called for a period of rising inflation. Jones told CNBC earlier in the week that he owns some bitcoin and sees it as a good inflation hedge.

“Clearly, there’s a place for crypto. Clearly, it’s winning the race against gold at the moment,” Jones said Wednesday.

But most of the major investors have not gone so far as to call for hyperinflation like Dorsey.

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Alec Baldwin fatal prop gun shooting raises questions about working conditions

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While injuries or death from prop firearms are extremely rare, the accidental killing of Halyna Hutchins on a Sante Fe movie set Thursday has sparked inquiries about working conditions for Hollywood crew members.

“I’ve been in the industry 21 years,” said Kevin Williams, the prop department supervisor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “I have not heard of any circumstances like this. So, this is definitely one of these things, and it sounds like a cliche to say, but it really sounds like a freak accident.”

The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office confirmed that actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of “Rust,” a Western being filmed at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, killing the film’s director of photography and injuring its director, Joel Souza.

Security guards and a compliance officer at New Mexico’s Bonanza Creek Ranch on Oct. 22, 2021, the film set where actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun.

Adria Malcolm | Reuters

Souza has since been discharged from the hospital. No charges have been filed. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

While it’s unclear at this point what exactly transpired Thursday, many in the industry have begun to inquire about working conditions on set. These queries come as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees works to finalize a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that addresses the union’s calls for better working hours, safer workplace conditions and improved benefits.

“There have been times that I have been on projects for 18 to 20 hours and then been asked to return in six,” Williams said.

Crew protested working conditions

The IATSE issued a statement Friday addressing Hutchins’ death and encouraging its members to contact the union’s safety hotline if they feel unsafe on set.

“Our entire alliance mourns this unspeakable loss with Halyna’s family, friends, and the ‘Rust’ crew,” the statement read. “Creating a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from every one of us, day in and day out. Please, if you see something, say something.”

The union declined to comment further.

A person familiar with the matter told NBC News that half a dozen camera crew workers walked off the “Rust” set in protest of working conditions just hours before the shooting took place. Among their concerns were multiple misfires of the prop gun.

Earlier Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing three unnamed people involved with the production, that the crew was frustrated with the production’s long hours. It also alleged that there were two previous prop gun misfires on set, one the previous week and one on Saturday.

​”The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement provided to CNBC. “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down.”

Rust Productions is cooperating with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.

A ‘potential failure in the system’

Hollywood productions typically adhere to strict safety measures for stunt work, particularly when it comes to weapon and prop safety. The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee has written and distributed safety bulletins on best practices for television and movie productions.

“Blanks can kill,” the first bulletin reads. “Treat all firearms as though they are loaded. ‘Live ammunition’ is never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage.”

These guidelines are recommendations and may not apply to reality shows such as “Mythbusters” or “Top Shot” where live rounds are used to test scientific theories or for marksmanship competition.

“I can say unequivocally that a blank round versus a live round is really easy to identify in the hands of an experienced armorer or prop master,” Williams said. “I can’t imagine anybody would say ‘whoops’ and just put that in there.”

He also noted that safety demonstrations are done with all cast and crew involved in firearm stunts who are instructed that prop weapons should never be pointed at another actor or crew member. In cases where a director wants to film a weapon being pointed at the camera and discharged, ballistic shields are used, he said.

“There are a lot of safety measures put in place,” he said. “If it turns out that a live round was loaded into a vintage weapon and it turns out that that is how this happened, then we need to figure out why.”

That’s a “potential failure in the system,” Williams said.

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U.S. officials keep close watch on the ‘delta plus’ mutation as it spreads in the U.K.

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on May 11, 2021.

Jim Lo Scalzo | Pool | Reuters

U.S. health officials are keeping a close eye on an emerging Covid-19 subvariant, dubbed “delta plus,” that some scientists say may be more contagious than the already highly transmissible delta variant.

Formally known as AY.4.2, delta plus includes two new mutations to the spike protein, A222V and Y145H, which allow the virus to enter the body. Those mutations have been found in other Covid variants, so it’s unclear how dramatically those changes affect the virus.

Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said it could be 10%-15% more contagious than delta, which first appeared in India and spreads easier than Ebola, SARS, MERS and the 1918 Spanish flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Delta has an R-naught, or reproductive rate, of eight or nine, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, meaning that every person who has Covid will spread it to up to nine other people. The “wild type” or original strain of Covid had an estimated R-naught of about three. Someone infected with the delta variant carries 1,000 times the viral load of the original Covid strain.

India’s Ministry of Health reported in June that delta plus was more transmissible than the delta variant, adding that the subtype binds more strongly to lung cell receptors and could even reduce the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments.

The mutation has been detected in the U.S., but there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in delta plus cases nationwide, Walensky said at a White House Covid briefing Wednesday.

“We particularly monitor for sublineages that could impact therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines,” Walensky said. “At this time, there is no evidence that the sublineage AY.4.2 impacts the effectiveness of our current vaccines or therapeutics.”

The AY.4.2 subvariant has been detected in at least five cases in the U.S. since August: in Washington, D.C., California, North Carolina, Washington state and Massachusetts, according to Outbreak.info. The website collects data from GISAID, a global genomic database on Covid and influenza cases.

Top health authorities have cautioned for weeks that more powerful and potentially vaccine-resistant Covid variants could develop as long as widespread outbreaks continue to occur, fueled by billions of people worldwide who remain unvaccinated. White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in August that the U.S. could be “in trouble” if another mutation surpassed delta, asking the unvaccinated to get their shots in hopes of curbing a surge that crushed the nation’s health-care systems this summer.

Delta plus could also eventually affect the age groups eligible to receive Covid booster doses, Dr. Peter Marks, the Food and Drug Administration’s lead vaccine regulator, said Wednesday night. The FDA and CDC have authorized Covid boosters for a wide array of adults in the U.S. from all three manufacturers in the U.S.: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

“The exact age of that will be based on what we see of the emerging situation, which is quite dynamic right now because we continue to see reports of new variants coming up,” Marks said. “And we’re also seeing changes in the epidemiology of Covid-19 in our country right now with new hotspots coming up even as certain places die down.”

Concerns over delta plus are running high in the U.K., where officials are battling a surge in cases and facing a renewed health crisis. Delta plus cases represented roughly 6% of all sequenced Covid cases as of the week beginning Sept. 27, according to the latest data from the country’s Health Security Agency. The sublineage is “increasing in frequency” in the U.K., the agency noted, and doctors from the National Health Service Confederation in London are calling for a return to stricter Covid protocols heading into the winter.

But global health leaders are urging the public not to panic. Though the emergence of a Covid subtype isn’t the same as an entirely new variant evolving, keeping track of delta’s progression could allow the medical community to better understand the mutation, Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, Covid-19 incident manager at the World Health Organization’s regional branch for the Americas, said at a briefing Oct. 6.

“Looking to these additional changes, it may help researchers to track the variants on a fine scale,” Aldighieri said. “But they do not imply any functional or biological difference.”

— CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt in London contributed to this report.

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