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Blog: Tesla Could Win the Race to Robo-Taxis


Elon Musk

Tesla Wants to be a Waymo Competitor by 2021

On Tesla Autonomy Investor Day, which coincided with Earth Day, CEO of Tesla Elon Musk was projecting Tesla carrying out autonomous robotaxis next year, in 2020. While this may be a great promise, it’s more likely to be in 2021 given Tesla track-record of implementation.

If Waymo is LiDAR based, Tesla is the exact opposite. Elon Musk is a peculiar evangelist of the future and he went so far as saying ‘anyone relying on lidar is doomed’.

Now, Wall Street analysts believe the technology is still far from ready and it puts Tesla at a risky position to compete with leaders in ride-hailing and software industries. They are citing Elon Musk’s history of late deliveries on his promises.

However the hype of electric vehicles that are self-autonomous has a lot of hype. Listening to Elon Musk on stage at the Tesla Autonomy Investor Day in Palo Alto, California, you might have imagined Tesla’s self-driving technology was ready. However experts are saying it’s going to take much long for full-autonomy to become a mainstream realities in cities, the robo-taxis are not okay, they are still learning.

Tesla is All-In on Robo Taxis

However, The Tesla computer, a new custom chip designed to enable full self-driving capabilities, is now in all new Model 3, X and S vehicles.

Tesla is going all in on self-driving cars. These robo-taxis will operate on the Tesla Network, which is basically a ride-hailing platform. Robo-taxis can be essentially any Tesla vehicle with autonomous-driving functionality. It’s a very key part of Tesla’s future business model it appears.

Elon Musk promises robot fleet of Tesla taxis by end of 2020

At its “Autonomy Day” on April 22nd, 2019, Tesla detailed the new custom chip that will be running the self-driving software in its vehicles. Elon Musk rather peremptorily called it “the best chip in the world…objectively.” Yet analysts are pointing out that NVIDIA’s Pegasus chip is much more advanced. Tesla appears to be behind Waymo in robo-taxi training and behind Nvidia with its chip. That’s not to say Tesla couldn’t be a winner in the race to a taxi app.

Tesla could beat Uber and Lyft at their own game if their version of robo-taxis work out. Uber & Lyft already have a difficult path to profit and a cash-positive reality. The big winner is expected to be the winners in self-driving taxis and robotic ride-hailing. Tesla is a definite dark horse in this domain. Elon Musk drives sentiment like few CEOs can. Elon Musk also now has a history of over-promising.

TechCrunch

A Tesla app for robotaxis will likely happen, though it’s unclear if Tesla can make the date of 2020, it will more likely launch in 2021. This is also because there are a lot of regulatory hurdles to be in the same boat as Waymo One.

Tesla’s Chip

  • Tesla switched over from Nvidia’s Drive platform to its own custom chip for the Model S and X about a month ago and for the Model 3 about 10 days ago.
  • Tesla’s full self-driving computer is now in all new cars and a next-gen chip is already ‘halfway done’.
  • Tesla’s chip? It is called for now the “full self-driving computer,” or FSD Computer, it is a high-performance, special-purpose chip built (by Samsung, in Texas) solely with autonomy and safety in mind.

Musk has talked about the Tesla Network and ambitions to allow owners to place their vehicles on the ride-hailing app since 2016.

Will Tesla ride-hailing compete in the future of the lucrative space of robo-taxis? It’s hard to say, it all depends on the functionality and just how smart non-LiDAR based tech is for robo-taxis. The verdict I think is still out. Part of the problem here is Elon Musk’s own sensationalist style of being a showman in how he promotes his products. Trust has waned of late on his tendency to delivery only years later — in timelines again here do not make much sense. 2020? Are you kidding me.

Regulatory Approval is the Great Unknown of Robo-Taxis

Musk also noted at numerous times that the full self-driving and the robotaxi fleet will require regulatory approval. This can delay projects indefinitely, as robo-taxis are likely going to scale over the period of several years or even decades.

  • Musk said that by “next year for sure, we will have over 1 million robo-taxis on the road.”
  • Robo-taxis will be significantly cheaper for riders than what Uber and Lyft cost today, Musk said, and will offer Tesla owners the opportunity of making upward of $30,000 per year.
  • “The fundamental message that consumers should be taking today is that it is financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla,” Musk said.

Give the above statements, it’s hard to conclude if Tesla will be a serious player in the space or not. It sounds too good to be true to many Wall Street analysts.

The reality is the space is so new the federal government does even have yet laws regulating autonomous vehicles. There are only voluntary guidelines. That’s how disruptive and new this space is, and it’s highly likely the automobile companies will be close behind Waymo in the “most advanced” tech behind Robo-taxis, not necessarily players like Tesla, Uber or Lyft.

Tesla could be a Big Winner

However if you believe in Tesla, you see this as a huge opportunity. Robo-taxis in this light are essentially any Tesla vehicle with autonomous-driving functionality. To turn a Tesla into a robo-taxi, a car’s owner simply adds it to the Tesla Network platform via the company’s app.

Tesla is developing “neural networks” of computers that can mimic the human brain and will enable driverless cars to operate safely using only cameras and radar sensors (non-LiDAR). Most other automakers are relying on cameras, radar and a type of laser-based radar known as LiDAR.

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, that is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. Tesla is going its own way, and it could bring us electric robo-taxis as soon as next year.

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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