Tesla’s big on the development of self-driving vehicle tech, sure, but quite touchy when it comes to people other than CEO Elon Musk showing new stuff off before it is fully baked. John Bernal learned this the hard way when he was fired for showing an unfinished beta version of the EV maker’s Full Self Driving system on his personal YouTube channel.
It wasn’t a good move, obviously, as the dismissal came promptly after he was found out demonstrating how FSD worked around different locations around Silicon Valley. Tesla also cut off beta access to Bernal’s own 2021 Model 3 as well despite showing no safety “strikes” in the software.
FSD’s in-development functionality aims to bridge the gap between the previous suite of driver assistance features available through Tesla's Autopilot and semi-autonomous driving in pursuit of the holy grail of a car that’s fully capable of driverless operation. Cue Knight Rider theme music.
The main new feature of FSD Is “autosteer on city streets” which allows the car to navigate complex urban environments without driver intervention. FSD costs new Tesla owners a US$12,000 upfront to equip in addition to a $199/month subscription fee following which the driver must obtain and maintain a high driver-safety score as determined by Tesla’s onboard software nanny.
It’s not uncommon for Silicon Valley companies to allow their employees access to unreleased products - hardware or software, or both - to be tested out in the real world. Apple famously lost a prototype iPhone 4 when an employee left it at a bar.
However, these same companies usually operate on a fierce unwritten policy of corporate loyalty. Tesla has not responded officially to their dismissal of Bernal in February who also has a side hustle through his YouTube channel, AI Addict. He had started the channel that same month.
However, according to him, his managers verbally told him that he “broke Tesla policy” and that his YouTube channel was a “conflict of interest”, further chastising him for selling merchandise with the phrase “full self-driving (beta)” on it.
Bernal said that he was always transparent about his content creation with his superiors and the public, adding that he never saw a policy barring him from creating said content with his own property (the Model 3). CNBC even got a hold of Tesla’s current social media policy which makes no direct reference to YouTube or criticising the company products in public.
Bernal admitted to being a lifelong car enthusiast before joining Tesla in August 2020 as a data annotation specialist working out of their San Mateo, California office. At the time of his dismissal, he had moved up to the role of advanced driver assistance test operator, hence his access to the unreleased system.
Prior to that, he took delivery of a 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range just a few months after his initial employment with the EV maker, which was spurred by the fact that they offered employees free access to FSD as a corporate perk in exchange for the right to collect internal and external vehicle data. Back then it was priced at $8,000.
AI Addict’s channel content comprised of Bernal driving around seemingly normally with a friend around the Silicon Valley area while engaging the FSD system, with the newest beta release installed and operational.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.