Elon Musk is known as being more hands-on than your typical CEO drawing on his engineering background to get in the weeds refining Tesla products. But the extent of the tech mogul’s role as Tesla Autopilot’s chief bug tester has been a secret until now.
In particular, the Tesla CEO is reportedly relentlessly testing the Autopilot software for bugs using a special developer version of the Model S, according to a Monday report by The Information. The company’s semi-autonomous driving feature is destined for some major updates very soon and those new capabilities may have been tested by Musk himself in a one-of-a-kind vehicle.
Testing more advanced versions of auto-pilot and looking for bugs obviously requires a special version of the software that isn’t publicly available. Indeed, one of the most interesting tidbits from the Information’s report is that there is in fact a special administrator version of the car that only Musk and the Autopilot team can access. The report describes it as an “engineering car” that allows the driver to adjust its “sensitivity,” resulting in more aggressive versions of the software that are potentially capable of far more than summoning your car from a parking space.
People interviewed as part of the Information’s report also revealed that Musk often joins meetings remotely while he’s testing the vehicle for bugs. The report does not detail exactly what features he is testing or where he is testing them, though self-driving cars do require special permits by the California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
One theory is that Musk could very well be testing the soon-to-be-released improved “Summon” feature that will let Tesla vehicles follow their owner “like a pet.” Or he could be trailing the “Navigate on Autopilot” feature which would enable cars to autonomously turn off highways at the correct exit based on the GPS’s destination.
The update to Summon is expected sometime around mid-December and the company is expected to begin shipping a more powerful chip to lay the foundation for autonomous driving by early 2019. If Tesla’s able to meet those deadlines, drivers can take some degree of comfort knowing that the features were likely vigorously tested by Musk himself.
Tesla did not immediately reply to a request for comment.