Tesla is planning to launch a fleet of autonomous taxi service made up of Tesla cars currently on the road. The company will have to retrofit existing cars with a self-driving computer (Autopilot Hardware 3.0) built from the silicon up by Telsa and powered by its Autopilot software. It seems Telsa is looking to compete with Waymo’s eponymous Waymo One and other driverless car sharing services.
Tesla spent a great deal of their Autonomous Day explaining how their hardware and software solution was a winning combination. The Autonomous Vehicle computer they’ve produced is able to be retrofit into existing cars. Initially, only the Model 3 & Model S will be eligible. Any owner will be able to add or remove their car from the Tesla network and earn revenue (of which Tesla will take a cut), and in areas where there aren’t a large pool of vehicles available, Tesla will supply its own.
Robo-taxi customers will be able Tesla summon cars “from [their] parking lots” using a Telsa mobile app, they’ll just be able to hop in and go.
Tesla expects that rides in its driverless taxi fleet will cost $0.18 cents a mile compared to $2 to $3 cost of traditional ridesharing. And on the profit side of the equation, it’s projecting a gross profit of $0.65 per mile for a total of $30,000 per car per year, assuming the cars in question last about 11 years. When pressed on the specifics of this and how these rates stacked up against the competition Musk said they just threw some stuff together they thought sounded good. He was more focused on the overall concept than the specifics at this stage. So I would take these predicted costs and earnings with a grain of salt.
What seems overly ambitious is that Musk predicts that Tesla will be producing cars without steering wheels or pedals in two years and in three he’ll have the cost down to $25,000.
Tesla’s exuberance isn’t shared by others in the industry. Ford’s C.E.O., Jim Hackett, said two weeks ago that his company had “overestimated” how quickly the technology had advanced. And Waymo, considered the leader in autonomous vehicles, has rolled out a test robo-taxi program in Phoenix very slowly.
Tesla believes that Robotaxi’s are a real possibility in the short terms because of the strong performance capabilities of the newly announced Autopilot Hardware 3.0. It’s shipping in all new Model 3, Model S, and Model X cars and can be retrofitted into its existing fleet. Features over 144 Tera Operations Per Second (TOPS) of neural network performance, two AI accelerators, a graphics chip, and an image signal processor, all of which translates to a 1.25 improved power consumption and 80 percent reduced cost overall. Moreover, Tesla claims it’s 7 times more powerful than competitor Nvidia’s Drive Xavier chip.
There is no doubt that Musk’s vision for the future is solid, however, Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance feature has faced scrutiny from the public, the media, and from regulators. A small handful of owners have died while using the feature. Tesla and Musk have sometimes attributed those deaths to over-confidence in its own system and says drivers should always monitor Autopilot and keep their hands on the wheel (even though Musk often doesn’t).
With these realities in our present, it’s hard to imagine that in 2 years we’ll be trusting them (or anyone) with fully autonomous roaming freely on our roads.