As the Silicon Valley electric car company bids to be the first among many rivals to get autonomous vehicles on the road, Chief Executive Elon Musk of Tesla Motors said that all new Tesla models will come with hardware to enable them to be fully self-driving.
New hardware, which includes eight cameras, 12 updated sensors, and radar with faster processing, are being equipped in its Model S and Model X electric cars that are beig produced, the company said.
Musk told reporters on a conference call that the new hardware package will cost $8,000. He said that the company is still testing the software that will enable fully autonomous operation.
A Tesla would be able to drive in full autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York “without the need for a single touch” on the wheel by the end of 2017, Musk said he expects.
However there have been number of occasions that he has set ambitious deadlines for Tesla which have slipped the timetables. Other rival automakers have said that autonomous driving capability would be enabled by them only by 2019 or 2021.
Musk said that although the Autopilot software would continue to be improved for older Tesla vehicles, such vehicles without the additional cameras, sensors and upgraded processors will not be able to drive autonomously.
Musk said that less capability to assist drivers with steering or braking will be present in cars with the new technology compared to older cars running Tesla’s Autopilot.
Newer models would be able to reach parity with the older vehicles by December, he said. The software system will run on an Nvidia Corp Titan chip and is being built in-house, Musk said.
The manner in which Tesla’s future autonomous driving system will be greeted by regulators is unclear. It will be twice as safe as a human driver, Musk said. But new, more rigorous standards to control the development and deployment of such systems are being proposed by federal and state regulators in the United States.
Calling it a “vanity purchase” that cannot be used in the real world, Edmunds Inc analyst Jessica Caldwell questioned the value of purchasing a self-driving car before regulations catch up.
Tesla’s hardware could potentially be made “obsolete almost as soon as it’s activated for prime time” by rival carmakers who could introduce better solutions, Caldwell said.
Lidar laser-based sensors, a tool most other car makers believe is necessary for full autonomy, has most notably not chosen to be included by Tesla.
As Tesla’s stock price has fallen over the last few years, Musk has made series of efforts to maintain investor interest in Tesla and its self-driving announcement is the latest in that series of efforts. Within the next 12 months, the company is expected to raise more cash from capital markets.
As the company has suffered a difficult few months, shares of the company have fallen 23 percent since an April high.
Scrutiny on Tesla’s financial and regulatory challenges have been increased by the decision to acquire money-losing rooftop solar developer SolarCity Corp and the death in May of a Tesla driver using the company’s Autopilot system, which prompted an investigation by safety regulators.
(Adapted from Reuters)