Elon Musk describes Tesla’s latest autonomous driving innovations and plans for the future

Tesla is a small automaker compared to the global giants, yet it leads the pack from a technical and technological standpoint in many areas. One such area is in the field of autonomous driving tech, and the automaker recently showcased its newest self-driving tech and how it intends to use them at a special event held at its headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

Tesla’s Future Includes Ride Hailing and Constant Technological Improvement

The California-based EV manufacturer is far more open to sharing its tech than any of the more established automakers, and this “autonomy day” is a perfect example of that philosophy. During the three-hour-long event, Tesla outlined its general direction for self-driving tech development, it showed off a full self-driving computer and a self-driving chip, and a neural network accelerator that makes them possible.

It also gave us a look at its artificial intelligence tech and also confirmed it was moving away from using LIDAR tech (short for light detection and ranging).

Regarding the use of LIDAR, Musk explicitly stated that it “is a fool’s errand,” concluding that “anyone relying on LIDAR is doomed. Expensive sensors that are unnecessary. It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices. Like, one appendix is bad — well, how about a whole bunch of them?”

Ride Hailing, LIDAR, Life Span, And Self-Driving Tech - Tesla Has it All Figured Out
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This was Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s stab at companies that are still going forward with developing this tech which he believes to be a waste of time and resources - I’m sure you’ve seen those cars that either have some sort of spinning sensor on top or, more recently, a slightly more streamlined box of sensors on top of the car with openings front, rear, and on the sides in order to allow the sensors to ‘see’ what’s around the car. Currently, it’s quite a bulky solution and the sensor array looks a bit ridiculous perched on top of the car’s roof, but maybe in the future the tech will evolve sufficiently to allow engineers to shrink everything down and do a better job of hiding it (and ultimately prove Musk wrong).

Probably the most important piece of tech revealed at the event is the dedicated chip specifically designed to be used in autonomous driving applications. Tesla says it is “the best chip in the world” for self-driving vehicles, and that it’s been developed by the brightest minds currently working any anything similar anywhere on the globe. It already equips all-new Teslas specced with the full suite of self-driving systems (Full Self-Driving or FSD, in Tesla-speak) and is integrated into a special full self-driving computer that enables the aforementioned neural network accelerators to process 2,100 frames per second (equivalent to 2.5 billion pixels per second).

Ride Hailing, LIDAR, Life Span, And Self-Driving Tech - Tesla Has it All Figured Out
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The chip needs that kind of capability to be able to make sense of images coming back from no fewer than eight cameras placed around the car.

Tesla says that its chip is able to handle 144 TOPS (short for Total Operations Processing System), and is considerably more than a comparable chip from nVidia that only posted an average of 21 TOPS of processing, even though its manufacturer rates it up to 30 TOPS.

However, nVidia has now stepped in to say that Tesla’s chip should have been put up against its Drive AGX Pegasus chip, which is able to process claimed 320 TOPS.

FSD adds $5,000 to the price of any new Tesla, but it is one step above what the company calls Autopilot. FSD has additional functions like “Follow” and “Navigate on Autopilot.” Tesla is really proud of the latter as it effectively enables the car to drive itself not just on the highway, but also on- and off-ramps without input from the driver. In the very near future, an over-the-air update will add a new function to FSD, and that’s traffic light and stop sign recognition, so FSD will also work not just work on the freeway, but in towns as well.

Ride Hailing, LIDAR, Life Span, And Self-Driving Tech - Tesla Has it All Figured Out
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Elon Musk also mentioned that Tesla will launch its own ride-hailing service in the near future, and that it will rely on Model 3 and Model S sedans to do all the ferrying around of passengers. The end goal here is to have fully autonomous driverless taxis ("Robotaxis") that you will be able to summon via an app. Musk estimates that the owner of a Model 3 that allows his vehicle to carry out autonomous taxi duties on the Tesla Network could earn said owner $30,000 per year for the equivalent of 90,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) driven.

Furthermore, the Tesla boss reckons this will slash the cost per mile from the current level of between $2 - $3 to just $0.18 per mile.

Now with the projected lifespan of a Tesla car being 11 years, that means one single vehicle could earn $330,000 on its own before it needs to be replaced, thus making buying a fleet of such vehicles a very good idea, at least on paper for now. However, some people may have a problem with the fact that these fully-autonomous Teslas that can drive passengers from point to point sans driver (projected to be here very soon), will only work on Tesla’s own network, and that the tech won’t be compatible with Lyft or Uber. In other words, Tesla is going to face these now established ride-hailing players that are undeniably very tough competitors with global reach.

Ride Hailing, LIDAR, Life Span, And Self-Driving Tech - Tesla Has it All Figured Out
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The message is clear: Tesla intends to stay ahead of the pack in terms of self-driving tech and branch out into ride-hailing too. And, it is already an industry leader - this becomes very obvious if you ever have a chance to get a ride in a current Tesla with FSD and notice just how smooth and relaxing the experience is. Some other manufacturers’ solutions feel nowhere near as accomplished as what Tesla has, although some (such as Mercedes-Benz) do come close to matching it.

Finally, Elon Musk made a point that “the fundamental message that consumers should be taking today, it is financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla. It will be like owning a horse in three years. I mean, fine if you want to own a horse. But you should go into it with that expectation.” We’ll be keeping a close eye on Tesla in the near future as it details its ride-hailing and self-driving tech plans further in coming months.

Further Reading

2017 Tesla Model S Exterior
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model S.

2016 Tesla Model X
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model X.

2018 Tesla Model 3 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model 3.

2020 Tesla Model Y
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model Y.

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