At a time when a fully autonomous motoring future is looking very far off, and potentially not feasible at all, Tesla is making some lofty claims about its own driving assistance tech.
During its ‘Autonomy Day’ event, CEO Elon Musk said that by 2020, Autopilot will be so effective that drivers won’t have to pay attention. He also claimed that a Level 5 Model 3 ‘Robotaxi’ with no steering wheel at all could be ready in about two years, although if that actually happens, it’d require a change in the law to be road legal.
Perhaps the part that stuck out the most, however, was Musk’s prediction that Tesla drivers would eventually be able to choose a very aggressive Autopilot mode which would allow for the “slight chance of a fender bender”. He dubbed it “LA traffic mode.”
The hardware for many of the advancements covered in the summit is already being installed in all Model 3, S and X derivatives currently being built. The system is based around eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, radar, and a “custom-designed beast of a Full Self-Driving Computer”. A second-generation version of the chip is said to be three times better, but it’s still around two years away.
Musk also spoke out against the use of Lidar in the industry, dubbing it “expensive”, “unnecessary” and “lame”. He predicted that Tesla’s rivals would ultimately all ditch such sensors.
As for whether or not any of the advancements laid out in the briefing will come to pass, we’ll have to wait and see. Musk does have a history of pushing out timetables Tesla is not able to meet, after all. The Level 5 prediction seems particularly dubious, as some - including the CEO of Waymo - have even said that Level 5 autonomy won’t ever be possible.
Autopilot in its current guise, meanwhile, has been under fire following a handful of fatal accidents. An NTSB report into the Model S crash that claimed the life of Joshua D Brown said that the system, which was running at the time, “allowed prolonged disengagement from the driving task and enabled the driver to use it in ways inconsistent with manufacturer guidance and warnings”. Tesla itself says that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel at all times and pay attention to the road while using Autopilot.