Earlier in December at a company event for academic and industry researchers, Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, accompanied by Vice President of Hardware and a former AMD architect, Jim Keller, discussed the future of AI hardware and fully autonomous vehicles. At the occasion, Musk confirmed that the company is working on developing custom AI hardware and predicted that fully autonomous versions would be available in two years.
Recent reports uncovered a possibility of Tesla’s collaboration with AMD aimed at developing a custom chip that would enable better self-reliance in terms of processing needs, in comparison to the currently used graphics cards (GPUs) provided by Nvidia for its Autopilot software. According to Musk, custom chips would “give 10x the power at a tenth of the cost”, while Keller believes that developing the hardware would increase efficiency and remove overheads.
At the same event, Musk also expressed his prediction regarding the availability of fully-self driving vehicles within two years, while stating that it would take only three years to develop autonomous drivers that could be better than humans. However, more recently, Musk stated that Tesla’s navigation system could see an overhaul in early 2018 that could significantly improve the current Level 2 autopilot.
Tesla’s vehicles which are typically reviewed positively by customers, are subject to continuous refining and innovating of their technology. Even though each new model builds upon the previous ones, over- the-air updates can add new and enhanced functionality to models that have already been released. Namely, this is how Tesla plans to upgrade its autonomous driving to Level 5 in 2018.
The vehicles will receive a major update in early 2018 which will provide improvements to the current navigational systems. The company plans to upgrade its autonomous driving, by implementing Level 5 autopilots, once the technology has been prepared for deployment, by offering customers an option for extra up-front purchase of the enhanced feature.
Every Tesla vehicle sold since October 2016 onward, is equipped with Autopilot 2.0 hardware, providing the basis for future software updates that could enable Level 5 fully-autonomous driving. Level 5 autonomy would mean that a human driver would not be required even under difficult conditions.
There are currently more than 90,000 vehicles with the feature Autopilot 2.0., according to data by Electrek. 77% of them include an Enhanced Autopilot package of $5,000, while around 40% have the Fully Self-Driving capability, of additional $3,000. When released, the option to upgrade to fully autonomous capabilities will cost $1,000 more, thus representing a monetary incentive for customers to opt for this feature before the updates.
Although Level 5 autonomous driving remains unproven yet, there is an established track record of the efforts to introduce it in vehicles. There have already been several upgrades to the autopilot in 2017. In January, the company began releasing an update to the Enhanced Autopilot functionality including traffic aware cruise control and forward collision warnings. Later, in May, an additional update lifted restrictions on the Autosteer feature, raising the speed limitation from 55 mph to 80 mph.
There is currently only a vague framework regarding the availability of the novelty, assumed to be released in the beginning of 2018. Moreover, competitors have already expressed scepticism regarding the feasibility assuming that true autonomy could not be possible with the current hardware.
Nevertheless, the company appears confident in reaching its autonomous driving goals. Back in April, Musk stated that in two years time it would be possible for a driver to sleep during a trip between California and New York while the vehicle’s autopilot is on. With the addition of continuous over-the-air updates and rigorous tests, frequent public statements and tweets about upgrades, Tesla is well positioned to maintain its competitive edge, as well as a leading position in the electric and autonomous vehicles market.