Musk’s bets on Tesla: no human drivers this year, robots next

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(Reuters) – Tesla’s most necessary merchandise this yr and next is not going to be automobiles, CEO Elon Musk mentioned on Wednesday, however software program that drives them autonomously and a humanoid robotic the corporate expects to assist out within the manufacturing unit.

The audacious guarantees by the best-known billionaire within the electrical automobile trade face main challenges, from expertise to regulation. Tesla and different auto expertise firms have missed their targets for self-driving software program for years.

“I really like the truth that they’re pushing the envelope, however I believe they’re too aggressive,” mentioned Roth Capital Partners analyst Craig Irwin.

Musk has constructed a profession on defying skeptics with working companies in electrical automobiles and rockets. Some Tesla drivers purchase $12,000 self-driving packages within the expectation that full autonomy is across the nook, and 60,000 Tesla drivers are testing the newest self-driving software program, a scale that different autonomous automobile software program firms can solely dream of.

“I’d be shocked if we don’t obtain full self-driving safer than human this yr. I’d be shocked,” Musk mentioned, predicting full self-driving would turn into “an important supply of profitability for Tesla.”

“It’s nutty good from a monetary standpoint,” he mentioned, saying robotaxis would increase the utility of a automobile by 5 instances, as house owners can ship their automobiles out to work when not wanted.

Tesla makes use of cameras and synthetic intelligence, avoiding different applied sciences such radar and lidar that rivals corresponding to Waymo embody. That strategy has drawn hearth.

“You have to have the ability to not solely simply see an individual, like proper in entrance of you, you have got to take action, with 99.999999999% reliability. Even operating over somebody as soon as will not be an appropriate reply,” Austin Russell, CEO of lidar maker Luminar, advised Reuters.

Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has been working on autonomous automobile security, mentioned an enormous drawback is that at scale, uncommon circumstances always can crop up.

“Without a human driver to deal with security for novel conditions the machine studying hasn’t been taught already, it is very troublesome to make sure security in a totally automated automobile,” he mentioned.

REGULATION

Even if the expertise works, Tesla would come below extra rigorous scrutiny from regulators earlier than deploying fleets of free-roaming robotaxis. U.S. auto security regulators opened a security investigation into Tesla’s superior driver assistant system after crashes involving the autos and parked emergency autos.

Federal automobile security regulators have issued pointers to states, however not complete requirements governing self-driving automobiles.

There are some states whose legal guidelines would require approval for a totally autonomous automobile, Koopman mentioned.

Just a yr in the past, Musk mentioned throughout an earnings name he was “extremely assured the automobile will have the ability to drive itself with reliability in extra of human this yr.”

Tesla’s autopilot engineer on the time, CJ Moore, final yr advised the California regulator that Musk’s tweet on self-driving expertise “doesn’t match engineering actuality.”

Musk additionally mentioned engineers are working to launch a humanoid robotic next yr, known as Optimus, that might ultimately tackle world shortages of labor, and within the brief time period would possibly have the ability to carry gadgets round a manufacturing unit.

“For performing harmful and repetitive duties, utilizing a humanoid robotic is precisely the fallacious strategy,” mentioned Raj Rajkumar, professor {of electrical} and pc engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Musk, although, says the robotic could also be extra necessary than a automobile. “This, I believe, has the potential to be extra vital than the automobile enterprise over time,” he mentioned.

(Editing By Peter Henderson and Gerry Doyle)



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