Tesla is no doubt pushing the boundaries of what a car can be. The company is taking vehicles to another level, from luxurious electric cars to Full Self-Driving. But, achieving these big plans requires some strange steps, and possibly the weirdest is a simulated San Francisco. This “virtual city” is reportedly being designed from the ground up for their AI Autopilot.

In order for Tesla to meet their goals of releasing a fully-autonomous version of its autopilot, they need to prepare it for every scenario. Their current self-driving capabilities are very limited and are closer to advanced cruise control rather than an autonomous car. To perfect the service, Tesla is working with Unreal Engine to create a virtual test world.

Let’s dive into everything we know so far!

What is Tesla Trying to Do?

Tesla’s goal is to have Full Self-Driving and autopilot technology available on their vehicles. However, this isn’t going as easily as they hoped. There have been numerous reports of accidents and close calls during testing. To prepare for a full launch, Tesla needs to ensure that Full Self-Driving and autopilot are 100% safe.

To do so, they need to test in both the virtual world as well as the real world. While real-world testing is very important, testing on the computer can help identify problems before they occur. One obvious question that comes up is why they are focusing on San Francisco. The answer is very simple: Tesla is located in San Francisco, and that is where the majority of its testing is taking place.

Therefore, it makes sense to create a virtual world that mimics the real-world environment they’re testing in. As testing progresses, Tesla will likely expand their virtual world in addition to testing in various cities across the country. San Francisco is also a great place to test because of the unique roads and traffic.

AI Learning

Tesla uses artificial intelligence with its Autopilot and self-driving systems. This means that the computer in the car actually learns more as it gets used.

While the concept of AI learning is great, it can have some major problems, predominantly that it is not safe to test a completely autonomous car in a major city, as accidents can happen quickly, easily, and seemingly out of nowhere.

That’s where Unreal Engine comes in to help make things safer. Creating scenarios for the car to learn from in the virtual world is obviously much safer than testing in the real world, where anything can happen. The virtual world can also simulate thousands of possibilities around the clock.

As the cars navigate the virtual world, the software should respond by learning from these various incidents. This is possible thanks to the high quality of Unreal Engine and its lifelike world. Tesla’s end goal for its simulated San Francisco is that it can help the AI learn and prepare for any scenario a car may find itself in.

Tesla Self-Driving Capabilities

As far as self-driving goes, Tesla has been hard at work to bring Full Self-Driving to its lineup. However, the process is very gradual, which is why we still don’t see cars driving themselves. The main reason for the slow rollout is that there are a lot of complex computations that must be made in the blink of an eye.

Various sensors around the car pick up information and relay it back to the car’s computer. From there, the car needs to decide what to do next in order to get to a destination safely. Many manufacturers already have the basics of self-driving, such as cruise control, lane assist, and automatic braking.

While these features work well independently, getting everything to work flawlessly together 100% of the time is a big task. This is why many manufacturers remain relatively quiet on self-driving, despite the fact that nearly every major brand is working on it. The reality is that they are still a long way from fully autonomous vehicles.

But, Tesla is pushing the boundaries and wants self-driving to be a reality, which is why there are three tiers of driver assistance available on their cars. The first is Autopilot, which simply matches the speed of cars around you and can autosteer. The second is Enhanced Autopilot which does basic driving on the interstate or helps to park.

Full Self-Driving is what most Tesla fans look forward to, as it includes the ability to identify stop signs and traffic signals. However, you still have to manually navigate through them. New features will continue to be added to this tier as Tesla continues testing. Fortunately, future updates are included if you’ve purchased Full Self-Driving.

Autopilot vs. Full Self-Driving
Tesla is using a simulation of San Francisco to train the Full Self-Driving function of its cars.

Why is Tesla Stuck on Self-Driving?

There are a few reasons why Tesla is so heavily focused on self-driving. The most obvious reason is that they touted the feature as coming for many years. Therefore, many owners expect to one day have access to the service. In addition, Tesla stands to make self-driving a major selling point for their vehicles.

Tesla vehicles are known for their luxurious nature that is rich with features. To stand out from competitors, Tesla must continue to push the boundaries of technology. This includes having features that exceed what is available from other vehicle manufacturers.

Safety is a major driving factor when consumers choose a vehicle. Although most people don’t think of a self-driving car as a safety feature, it can essentially act as a second pair of eyes on the road. Much of the current advancements in Autopilot and self-driving are the result of making driving safer for both occupants and surrounding travelers.

Finally, the last and most important reason that Tesla has a strong focus on Full-Self Driving is money. A self-driving car certainly impacts a vehicle’s sales, as previously mentioned. But, more importantly, Tesla charges a fee to access Full-Self Driving mode. Currently, Tesla charges over $10,000 to unlock this capability, but the price could continue to rise as more features become available.

What is Unreal Engine?

Unreal Engine is a video game engine that many popular titles like Valorant and Fortnite run on. The game engine is the back-end that makes all the complicated aspects of a video game possible. It simplifies the process of game development by allowing developers to focus on front-end rather than back-end programming.

Unreal Engine is the perfect choice for Tesla because it is known for its use in open-world games. These games focus on giving players an open world to explore with plenty of nonplayable characters and elements that must run seamlessly. Tesla is likely not worried about graphics and is instead focused on the simulation aspect.

Many gamers play for hours on end without realizing the sheer scale of power that goes into these games. Developers pour in thousands of hours to ensure a seamless world. Therefore, every minute detail of the world can be modified, including weather and traffic patterns. These changes provide an even deeper level of control for a company like Tesla.

Wrapping Up

In the real world, it would take hours of endless driving to encounter these scenarios. The simulated San Francisco is not the full answer to Tesla’s testing woes, but it is a big step. Hopefully, they are able to work out most of the bugs with testing to make the official launch of Full Self-Driving go as smoothly as possible.

As a gamer, it is hard not to be impressed by the fact that a virtual world is helping better something in the physical world. There is plenty to be excited about with VR/AR technology advancing to help in many industries. Now with Tesla using a simulated San Francisco, the sky seems to be the limit with blending real and virtual worlds together.

Tesla is Reportedly Working on a Simulated San Francisco to Train its Autopilot FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is Tesla making a video game?

Tesla is not currently working on a video game, but they have brought up the idea. There is a possibility that the simulation will expand to a game someday.

Does Tesla charge extra for self-driving?

Yes, Tesla charges a significant fee to unlock Full-Self Driving on their vehicles.

How did anyone find out about Tesla using Unreal Engine?

There were previous rumors, but a recent job listing for an “Autopilot Rendering Engineer” specifically mentioned Unreal Engine.

Can video games help advance AI technology?

This is an interesting prospect that stands to actually work. Video games are designed to create various simulations, which is what AI needs to learn.

Can you play games on a Tesla?

Not yet, but there was testing to integrate Steam into the vehicles. The problem is ensuring that the driver is not playing or distracted while driving.

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