Are robot taxi’s really on the horizon?
Tesla expects to launch the first robotaxis as part of broader vision for an autonomous ride-sharing network in 2020, CEO Elon Musk said during the company’s Autonomy Day.
“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 without detailing what regulations he was referring to. He added that he is confident the company will have regulatory approval somewhere next year.
Tesla will enable owners to add their properly equipped vehicles to its own ride-sharing app, which will have a similar business model to Uber or Airbnb . Tesla will take 25 percent to 30 percent of the revenue from those rides, Musk said. In places where there aren’t enough people to share their cars, Tesla would provide a dedicated fleet of robotaxis.
Musk has talked about the Tesla Network and ambitions to allow owners to place their vehicles on the ride-hailing app since 2016.
All new Tesla vehicles are now produced with its custom full self-driving computer chip, a detail that Musk revealed during the event Monday. That chip fulfills the hardware requirements for full self-driving, according to Musk, who boasted that it was the best in the world. (Tesla vehicles are equipped with a suite of sensors such as forward-facing radar and cameras. It does not have lidar, or light detection and ranging radar, a sensor that most AV developers say is critical, but that Musk argues is a fool’s errand and “doomed.”)
The remaining step is the software, which Musk says will be “feature complete” and at a reliability level that we would consider that no one needs to pay attention, by the middle of next year.
“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.”
Musk also noted at numerous times that the full self-driving and the robotaxi fleet will require regulatory approval. However, he didn’t explain what kinds of regulatory approval is needed. The federal government does not have any laws regulating autonomous vehicles. There are only voluntary guidelines. And if the vehicles are not altered in any way on the hardware side — such as removing the steering wheel or pedals, for instance — it’s unclear how the federal government could limit Tesla.
Musk could be referring to local and state laws that regulate ride-hailing networks. Again, it’s unclear and we’ll update the story if Tesla provides new information.
Recharging the Tesla robotaxis is one of few challenges that the company will face as it prepares to deploy.
Musk noted that he sees a future where the robotaxis would return home and automatically park and recharge. While he stopped short of confirming a production version of the snake charger Tesla unveiled in 2015, it was clear that Tesla sees a similar version coming to market alongside the robotaxi network.
Nvidia big win.
During the Autonomy Investor Day presentation, Tesla showed off its new FSD computer that boasts 144 trillion operations per second (TOPS). While complimenting Nvidia’s powerful chips, Tesla also noted that the chipmaker’s DRIVE Xavier computer is only capable of 21 TOPs.
Nvidia took the high road, but let the world know some facts. “Tesla erroneously stated that it delivers 21 TOPS,” Rob Csongor, vice president of investor relations, wrote the day after Tesla’s event. In fact, Xavier can deliver 30 TOPS, but that’s really besides the point, because Xavier is not intended for fully automated driving processes. Instead, the DRIVE AGX Pegasus computer is, and it can churn out 320 TOPS when two are paired together.
But Nvidia isn’t about to get into a nitpicking quarrel with Tesla on who has the most TOPS. Instead, Csongor pointed out what really matters:
“Tesla, however, has the most important issue fully right: Self-driving cars — which are key to new levels of safety, efficiency, and convenience — are the future of the industry…Indeed Tesla sees this approach as so important to the industry’s future that it’s building its future around it. This is the way forward. Every other automaker will need to deliver this level of performance.
There are only two places where you can get that AI computing horsepower: Nvidia and Tesla. And only one of these is an open platform that’s available for the industry to build on.”
Tesla’s FSD computer is an impressive piece of hardware, but it’s all dependent on the company making serious progress on fully autonomous driving between now and the end of the year. That’s going to force nearly every other automaker into the same race. Because Tesla won’t be selling the chips it’s using to get ahead of its competition to its competitors — and rightfully so — that leaves Nvidia as the one to scoop up the sales.
So is Nvidia the big winner from Tesla’s ambitious robotaxi plans, as it potentially pushes more sales into its automotive segment? One could certainly see that as the takeaway. The fact that it has its Pegasus and now Constellation available to customersshould mean big things for the industry and Nvidia’s automotive unit, but only time will tell.