SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS) – Chief Executive Elon Musk unveiled on Monday (April 22) a microchip for self-driving vehicles that the electric car company hopes will give Tesla Inc an edge over rivals.
Musk invited investors and analysts to its Silicon Valley headquarters to persuade them its massive investment in autonomous driving technology will pay off. The presentation comes two days before Tesla is expected to announce a quarterly loss on fewer deliveries of its Model 3 sedan, which represents Tesla’s attempt to become a volume car maker.
Global carmakers, large technology companies and an array of startups are developing self-driving – including Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc – but experts say it will be years before the systems are ready for deployment.
All cars being produced now have the chip and the company was about halfway through the design process for the next generation chip, which Musk estimated would be about three times better than the current system.
Tesla has been working on a self-driving chip since 2016 and Musk had previously forecast that cars would be fully self-driving by 2018, a target Tesla has missed.
Musk, who sat on the stage next to the head of AutoPilot Pete Bannon, added: “Any part of this could fail and the car will keep driving.”
Musk has been the center of most Tesla presentations, but on Monday he ceded the spotlight to his top hardware and software executives.
“A year from now we’ll have over a million cars with full self-driving, software, everything,” he said. He said it was improbable but true that Tesla had designed the best self-driving chip.
One reason, he explained, was that Tesla wanted a chip only for autonomous driving, while others, like Nvidia Corp, wanted a chip that could do other things as well.
Shares did not move during the presentation and closed down 3.8 per cent at US$262.75. Teslas have been involved in a handful of crashes, some of them fatal, involving the use of the company’s AutoPilot system.
The system has automatic steering and cruise control but requires driver attention at the wheel.
Tesla has been criticised by safety groups for being unclear about the need for “hands-on” driving.
The company also sells a “full self-driving option” for an additional US$5,000 (S$6,800), explained on Tesla’s website as “automatic driving from highway on-ramp to off-ramp,” automatic lane changes, the ability to autopark and to summon a parked car.
Coming later in 2019 is the ability to recognise traffic lights and stop signs, and perform automatic driving on city streets, Tesla says.
But Tesla’s use of the term “full self-driving” still garners criticism, as the option is not yet “Level 4,” or fully autonomous by industry standards, in which the car can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention.