Tesla Promises Autonomous Taxi Fleets By Mid-2020

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has promised “a million” self-driving taxis on the road in 2020, with full self-driving capabilities ready this year.

Musk made the remarks at an “Autonomy Investor Day” at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters on Monday, where executives gave details on a new neural network chip for autonomous driving that is to be built into all new Tesla cars.

The company also gave more information on its strategy of relying on cameras and radar to help the car make self-driving decisions, and eliminating the laser-based LIDAR that most competitors are using in addition to other sensors.

LIDAR is “expensive and unecessary”, Musk said at the event, saying cameras and radar provided all the information needed for self-driving vehicles and predicting that rivals would “dump LIDAR”.

Elon Musk at Tesla’s Autonomy Investor Day // Tesla

‘Difficult software problem’

Musk said Tesla designed the new chip from the ground up, beginning in 2016.

Never having built a chip before, the company has produced “the best chip in the world”, he said.

The unit is placed behind the glove box in new vehicles, and features redundancy so that if one chip fails a second can take over.

He said Tesla has been training its Autopilot self-driving software to handle unpredictable events such as other cars cutting in front of the vehicle.

An update handling cut-ins was pushed live three months ago, he said.

Musk argued all the hardware necessary to make Tesla vehicles self-driving is already present, with only software improvements remaining.

“It’s a very difficult software problem,” he said.

But he went on to claim it would be solved within months, with cars able to autonomously navigate dense urban areas such as New York and San Francisco by the end of the year and autonomous taxis to follow next year.

Tesla

Robo-taxis

“If you fast forward a year, maybe a year three months, we’ll have over a million robo-taxis on the road,” Musk said.

Tesla released a video showing a car navigating a journey across a varied urban landscape on its own, with the driver never touching the controls.

Next year’s self-driving vehicles will be able to drive anywhere, with no geo-fencing restrictions, and will be followed a year later by cars without steering wheels or pedals, Musk predicted.

He told investors he expects regulators in some areas to approve ride-hailing services for self-driving cars ahead of next year’s expected arrival of robo-taxi fleets.

Musk has previously promised self-driving cars would be on the roads in 2018.

By contrast, a recent Forrester study based on data from engineers at top players in the autonomous car business found that truly self-driving cars were likely to be more than ten years away.

One engineer told Forrester that the final 3 to 4 percent of achieving full autonomy would be exponentially more difficult to achieve than the previous stages, while others said the necessary sensors and algorithms necessary for autonomous vehicles don’t yet exist.

Engineers also highlighted a nonexistent regulatory environment.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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