Tesla CEO Elon Musk today made a series of bold predictions about the ability of his company's cars to drive on their own. And Musk thinks it will happen sooner than most of its competitors, perhaps later this year.
Musk made the comments at a guest-only event for investors at Tesla's headquarters in Palo Alto, presenting a vision for the near future in which self-service Teslas vehicles compete with people like Waymo, GM and Uber.
Here are some of the main findings of Tesla's "Day of Autonomy" event:
- Tesla unveiled a new microchip that Musk said was being included in every new Tesla produced today. He called "the best chip in the world … objectively".
- It is a high performance and special purpose chip built by Samsung in Texas, manufactured with autonomy and safety in mind.
- The company is approximately halfway there.
- Musk estimated that by the middle of 2020, the Tesla autonomous system will have improved to the point where drivers will not have to. Pay attention to the road.
- He said the company will launch autonomous taxis next year in some parts of the United States. The service will allow Tesla owners to add their cars to a Tesla network, which according to him would be similar to Uber or Airbnb.
- "We will have more than a million robotaxis on the way," said Musk. "Within a year, we will have more than one million cars with complete self-management, software … everything".
- These cars will have a level 5 autonomy without geofence, which is an elegant way of saying they will do it. Be able to drive anywhere on the planet, in all possible conditions, without limitations. Today there are no cars on the road that are at level 5.
- Tesla robotaxis could generate owners of up to $ 30,000 a year in profits, predicted Musk.
- Musk promised that Tesla would soon manufacture cars that could last at least a million miles, while requiring minimal maintenance.
Musk has been criticized for exaggerating the autonomous capabilities of Tesla vehicles, while also testing beta semi-autonomous features in its customers, with occasional consequences. Teslas has been involved in several accidents, some of them fatal, that involve the use of the company's autopilot system. Musk is known for setting deadlines he can not meet and for making predictions that are not met. (Musk had previously predicted that his cars would be fully autonomous by 2018.) As a result, his company's shares are some of the shortest in the world.
But Musk saw investor day as an opportunity to present his company's audacious plans for automatic driving cars, while establishing a clear distinction between Tesla and all the other companies working on this technology today. It was a blow through the bow of an industry that has recently taken the trouble to restore expectations about the eventual launch of self-service cars.
"The fundamental message that consumers should be taking today is that it's financial madness to buy something that is not a Tesla, "said Musk. "It will be like having a horse in three years, I mean, it's fine if you want to have a horse, but you should go with that expectation."
The first reactions to the dense presentation of Tesla were positive, although skeptical. The company's claims about the capacity of its AI chip were noteworthy, and should have nervous competitors such as Nvidia and Mobileye, owned by Intel, says Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant.
"Assuming that the new custom silicon really lives up to the claims, the computer looks very impressive at a performance level," says Abuelsamid. "This potentially puts them well ahead of what Nvidia and Intel / Mobileye can achieve at this time with comparable power consumption levels." The only current computing platform that can surpass Tesla's claims is the Nvidia Pegasus, which consumes significantly more energy ".
Others were less impressed. Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, a coalition of autonomous automotive industry players and non-profit organizations whose goal is to improve the public's understanding of automated vehicles, posted a thread on Twitter during the presentation that criticized Musk's claims without mentioning it. by his name.
"It is detrimental to public discussion of advanced vehicle technologies, and potentially unsafe, to refer to vehicles that are now available for sale to the public using inaccurate terms," PAVE wrote.
It is detrimental to public discussion about advanced vehicle technologies, and potentially unsafe, to refer to vehicles that are now available for sale to the public using inaccurate terms.
– PAVE Campaign (@PAVECampaign) April 22, 2019
Currently, Tesla sells an option of "Complete Self-Driving" (FSD) for $ 5,000 (or $ 7,000 after delivery), with the Tesla's "Navigate on autopilot" function that guides the car from "ramp to ramp" by suggesting and making lane changes, navigating road exchanges and proactively taking exits.
The company recently launched an over-the-air software update to enable automatic lane changes without any driver intervention. And at the end of this year, Tesla promises that cars equipped with FSD will be able to drive automatically in cities, and "recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs."
The name "Full Self Driving" is brand, and experts warn that it is not representative of the actual capabilities of the car. When you activate Navigate on Autopilot, a warning screen appears on the center screen that says: "Navigate on Autopilot does not make your Model 3 autonomous. Like other autopilot functions, the driver is still responsible for the car at all times. " Drivers who take their hands off the wheel run the risk of deactivating the function. Musk's comments today have the potential to further muddy the waters with respect to how cars that drive are discussed.
Musk says that Teslas vehicles have all the necessary hardware to enable "Auto Driving". That includes a sophisticated on-board computer, eight cameras covering 360 degrees, front radar and short-range ultrasonic sensors. While awaiting regulatory approval, all Tesla must do is "change the switch" and press a software update to transform an estimated 400,000 vehicles on the highway today into self-driven vehicles.
It is said that the company is progressing on a new autopilot neural network in its latest software update, but the idea that current regulations impede its implementation is confusing. There are no laws that prevent Tesla from fulfilling this promise at this time. As long as Tesla cars meet current federal motor vehicle safety standards, and they do, this can be achieved when Musk wants to.
Most experts say that fully autonomous cars are 10 years away, or even that they can not be achieved with the vision-based approach of Tesla. Almost all companies that currently work in automatic driving vehicles, including leaders such as Alphabet's Waymo, GM and Ford, use a light beam sensor called LIDAR. Musk calls LIDAR "a crutch" and for a long time has argued that it is too expensive and bulky for Tesla vehicles.
In today's event, Musk went further than it ever had in attacking companies that use laser sensors. "LIDAR is a message of fools, and anyone who trusts LIDAR is condemned," he said.
Companies that use LIDAR are convinced that The sensor is a necessary ingredient for driving cars. "Vehicles that do not have LIDAR, that do not have advanced radar, that have not captured a 3D map are not automatic driving vehicles," said Ken Washington, technical director of Ford, during a recent interview with Recode . "They are excellent consumer vehicles with really good driver assistance technology."
Musk's claims about the Tesla network attracted many questions from investors about the costs and responsibility per mile. When asked who would be responsible in case of a crash with a Tesla robotaxi, Musk said "probably Tesla".
Musk has been rejecting the idea of launching an Uber competitor for almost three years. In 2016, Musk launched its "Master Plan – Part Deux", in which it proposed allowing Tesla owners to add their car to a "shared Tesla fleet", which would later be known as "Tesla Network". Musk described the network as an On-Demand Transportation Service in which Tesla owners can lend their vehicles for autonomous taxi trips when they are at work or on vacation. Muskor theorized that if it was used enough, the vehicle could end up paying for itself.
The idea fell off the radar for several years, when Tesla slipped into his "hell of production" Model 3. It resurfaced late last year, when Musk raised the idea of renting his Tesla vehicle as he would with his home in Airbnb during a profit call. "The advantage that Tesla will have is that we will have millions of cars in the field with full autonomy and nobody else will have that," he said at the time. "So I think that will put us in the strongest competitive position in the long term."
In Monday's event, Musk offered his more detailed description of the robotaxi service. indicating that the current cost would be $ 0.18 per mile and would decrease over time.
While investors and experts process Tesla's presentation, many critics warn that Musk's statements should be taken with a bit of salt, especially in regard to total autonomy.
"Affirming that Tesla cars have the hardware for complete autonomy and just need the software is like saying we have seeds, we just need to plow, plant, nourish, harvest and then eat," said Raj Rajkumar, an engineer at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. "Basically they are at the starting point: there are still many years left for full autonomy."