Tech Drivers
Tech Drivers

Elon Musk claims Tesla will have 1 million robotaxis on roads next year, but warns he's missed the mark before

Key Points
  • Tesla hosted its Autonomy Investor Day on Monday to show off technology that the company is developing to make its electric vehicles driverless.
  • CEO Elon Musk said he is "very confident" Tesla would be able to offer robotaxis next year.
  • Musk also predicted that in two years, Tesla will be making cars with no steering wheels or pedals.
Tesla's Elon Musk promises 'robotaxis' by 2020
Tesla's Elon Musk promises 'robotaxis' by 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the company should have robotaxis on the roads in 2020.

"I feel very confident predicting autonomous robotaxis for Tesla next year," Musk said on stage at the Tesla Autonomy Investor Day in Palo Alto, California. They won't be "in all jurisdictions, because we won't have regulatory approval everywhere, but I am confident we will have at least regulatory approval somewhere, literally next year," he said.

Musk based his optimism on the amount of data his company is able to gather from Tesla vehicles already on the road today, which it then uses to improve its software.

All Tesla cars being produced today have the hardware on board that's required for full self-driving, Musk said, promising that, "all you need to do is improve the software."

Musk also predicted that in two years, Tesla will be making cars with no steering wheels or pedals.

While the CEO repeated that Tesla will have over 1 million robotaxis on the road next year, and he expects to be "operating robotaxis next year with no one in them," he did also warn investors, "Sometimes I am not on time, but I get it done."

In the past, Elon Musk's forecasts for Tesla have missed the mark. Tesla was two years late with the launch of the Model X, its first all-electric SUV. And it was two years late in delivering semi-autonomous features to eager drivers. When Tesla began to discuss its ambitions in self-driving technology in 2016, Musk said the company would conduct a hands-free trip across the US by late 2017. It has yet to complete that mission.

Musk and a Tesla Director, Pete Bannon, who is a former Apple exec, showed off Tesla's latest chips emphasizing how they were designed to process massive amounts of data quickly, without significantly heating up, or draining the vehicles' batteries.

Bannon claimed the chips can potentially perform 7 times better than a competing product from Nvidia, in reference to its Xavier chips.

Nvidia said in a statement that Tesla misstated details about its Xavier chips, which offer 30 TOPS, a measure of processing power (not 21 TOPS as Tesla claimed). Nvidia also said Tesla's full self-driving computers compare directly to its Drive AGX Pegasus. Tesla's new tech can provide 144 TOPS of processing power, and the Pegasus provides 320 TOPS, Nvidia said.

New chips already in development at Tesla are likely to arrive in two years, Musk and Bannon said. The company is currently manufacturing its chips with Samsung in Austin, Texas they revealed.

Currently, Tesla offers Autopilot -- an advanced driver assistance system -- as a standard feature in its cars. According to the company's website, Autopilot can automatically hold a car in its lane and accelerate or brake automatically, for example, in response to pedestrians or other cars in its way. Tesla can improve Autopilot with new features (or bug fixes) over time via over-the-air updates, as well.

In addition, Tesla sells a "Full Self-Driving," or FSD, package for its vehicles for $5,000 or more if the software is installed after the vehicle is initially purchased.

FSD features today include "Summon," which lets a driver call their Tesla to roll out from a parking spot to where they are standing (with no driver on board). And FSD lets drivers "Navigate on Autopilot," automatically driving their car from a highway on-ramp to an off-ramp, making necessary lane changes along the way.

Later this year, Tesla's website says, cars with FSD should be able to read and respond properly to traffic lights and stop signs, and drive automatically on city streets.

Even with FSD, Tesla's cars are not considered "driverless," meaning that they don't meet the SAE Level 4 standard used to denote a car that could handle every aspect of driving in some conditions without any human intervention.

Tesla also cautions its drivers, "Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous." In other words, while tempting, drivers aren't supposed to zone out, or drive hands-free even if they have Full Self-Driving.

Tesla and Musk have previously claimed that their cars are 40% safer than others when drivers have Autopilot engaged. A NHTSA study Tesla cited to support that claim has been debunked by independent researchers, Quality Control Systems. NHTSA has said it is reviewing QCS' findings.

There have been at least three fatal accidents in the US involving Tesla drivers with Autopilot engaged dating back to the death of Joshua Brown in Florida in 2106.

Tesla shares barely budged during the "Autonomy Day" event, and ended down about 4% for the day.

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