Tesla held an Autonomy Day event this Monday, and as usual, the public was privy to some customary bold claims from CEO Elon Musk.
“All [Tesla] cars being produced all have the hardware necessary — computer and otherwise — for full self-driving,” Musk said. “All you need to do is improve the software.”
Autonomy talk was sparked by Tesla's new poster child, its in-house produced new chip, the Full Self Driving chip (FSD). Company experts went into detail explaining how the chip works. The computer, Musk claims, is "objectively" the world's best car chip by "a huge margin."
"Musk says [Tesla has] been shipping its new Full Self Driving Chip in the Tesla Model S and Model X for over a month now, and has been placing it in the Model 3 for ten days already," The Verge reported.
Monetizing the robo-cars
According to Tech Crunch, Tesla expects to launch the first robotaxis as part of broader vision for an autonomous ride-sharing network in 2020.
“I feel very confident predicting that there will be autonomous robotaxis from Tesla next year — not in all jurisdictions because we won’t have regulatory approval everywhere” Musk said at the event, without detailing what regulations he was referring to, Tech Crunch reported.
He added that he is confident the company will have regulatory approval somewhere next year.
Supposedly, the service will follow the business model of companies like Uber or Airbnb.
“From our standpoint, if you fast forward a year, maybe a year and three months, but next year for sure, we’ll have over a million robotaxis on the road,” Musk said. “The fleet wakes up with an over the air update; that’s all it takes.”
This poses a very interesting talking point – how would this work exactly? While we are familiar with how Uber works, for example, where you turn on the app and start picking up riders, how would a similar system be implemented for autonomous cars? Do you leave your car on after getting home from work and set it loose on the streets to pick up riders of its own volition? Or maybe you do the same thing while you're at the office? Since no human input seems to be required, it could literally be a way for owners of FSD-equipped Teslas to monetize their vehicles during travel downtime. This is truly mind-blowing.
Bold claims demand rigorous regulation and safety checks
While Tesla certainly has some lofty goals with a possibly unrealistic actualization date, it will have to go through the wringer of government law and regulations.
Just last year, one of Uber's autonomous car's struck a pedestrian after failing to recognize her on the road as a pedestrian. The woman was on foot, pushing her bicycle. Things like an autonomous car's visual recognition abilities still pose a major liability in terms of road safety.
The Uber autonomous vehicle involved in the crash. Image: National Transportation Safety Board
In general, autonomous taxis remain a rather niche sector. In the US, 3 firms have already delved into this field prior to Tesla (as per Business Insider):
- Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving technology spinoff, launched the US's first AV ride-hailing service last December. Known as Waymo One, the firm is operating the service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.
- GM plans to launch an AV ride-hailing service by the end of 2019 via its Cruise Automation subsidiary. The automaker is currently operating a pilot ride-hailing service for Cruise employees in San Francisco, suggesting that could be the location of its official launch.
- Uber has said it would launch such a service in 2019 — but that timeframe is now in question. Uber has long eyed AV ride-hailing, but its AV endeavours have been delayed by a long line of missteps recently. In its S-1 filing, it identified AVs as a key area of future growth, but it did not offer any specifics on a ride-hailing service, negating the possibility of a 2019 launch.