Tesla engaged in explaining its autonomous technology to investors, two days ahead of its first-quarter earning disclosure. Although it might have been proven to be more dense for the average shareholder, it was an opportunity to see how Tesla will deliver self-driving cars and the company announced that Tesla robo-taxi will be available next year.
To begin, Tesla shared that it had built its own computer that it will be integrating into self-driving cars. The neural network chip was developed from scratch with the project starting back in 2016. Each computer, that will be stored behind the glove box, will have redundancy so if one chip fails the second one takes over.
This marks the first time that Tesla has built its own silicon chip. CEO Elon Musk was quick to boast that Tesla “which has never designed a chip, designed the best chip in the world.”
Musk reiterated what he has said before about the hardware used in Teslas. “All Tesla cars right now have everything necessary for self-driving available today. All you need to do is improve the software.”
The hardware on Teslas includes the cameras and radar that the company relies on. Talking about LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), Musk said “LiDAR is a fool’s errand. Anyone that’s relying on LiDAR is doomed.” He later added that “it’s fricking stupid. It’s expensive and unnecessary.”
Most other automobile companies are using or planning on using LiDAR for their driver’s assistant features. The technology’s cost has been reduced and its long-term usage prospect has been increased. Coupled with radar and cameras, it’s an additional tool for vehicles to see the world.
In its presentation, Tesla presented an argument that the attendees arrived at the event using their eyes and not lasers. This is an odd argument against LiDAR since a human being can’t see 360-degrees but a Tesla, because of the eight cameras integrated into it, can see the world like that.
As for the way vehicles will see and interact with the world, Tesla noted that the company has been training its neural network using real-world interaction with vehicles in order to deal with “cut-ins” (when a car pulls in front of another car). It then trains the system to understand the movements of cars as they are about to change lanes.
In order to test the system, Tesla uses something called “shadow mode.” The car sees a vehicle that is about to change lanes and makes note of what it would have done. The data is then sent to Tesla and it looks for false positives, or incorrect decisions and retrains the system. As soon as the system is competent on a level that is acceptable by the company, it will be deployed fully.
As for full autonomy, Musk noted: “the software problem should not be minimized.” He continued that, “it’s a very difficult software problem.” However, he promised that Teslas will be able to self drive themselves by the end of this year and self-driving robo-taxi will be available on road by 2020. Also, in the coming years, the company will be making cars without steering wheels or pedals at all.
“If you fast forward a year, maybe a year three months, we’ll have over a million robo-taxis on the road.”