By on April 23, 2019

tesla model x, Image: Tesla Motors

Did you miss Autonomy Day yesterday? If you’re unaware, that’s the name given to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s promise-filled, self-driving-focused speech to investors yesterday in the cradle of dreams (also known as Silicon Valley). There, Musk promised cars a driver can sleep in; cars that will make its owner money. Cars that, despite their self-driving nature, might be allowed to bash other vehicles around a bit.

Also stemming from that announcement? Musk’s assertion that any new car that isn’t a Tesla will be as antiquated and useless as a horse in three years. That’s right, even that affordable Kia Rio hatch that can be serviced anywhere. It’s “financially insane” to buy that, you know.

The Samsung-built computer chip and associated neural network, now found in all new Teslas, will analyze real-time sensor data and learn from it, refining the software’s algorithms and creating a world in which self-driving cars can operate safely and reliably, regardless of weather and obstacles. That’s the promise.

As before, it’s a world mapped via cameras and radar, not LIDAR. Competitors like Waymo that utilize lasers to feel out their surroundings are “doomed,” Musk said. They’ll all be switching over in no time.

In 12-15 months, Musk said, an app-based robotaxi network will spring up, allowing owners to deploy their self-driving cars as revenue-generating tools. Like Uber or Lyft, the Tesla Network ride-hailing service will take a cut from its operators of 20 to 30 percent. Oh, the money you’ll make.

How much, you ask? Tesla estimates gross annual profits of $30,000 per vehicle, though Musk tossed up a slide mentioning revenue opportunities of hundreds of thousands of dollars per vehicle. Figures you can bank on, surely.


“I feel very confident predicting that there will be autonomous robotaxis from Tesla next year — not in all jurisdictions because we won’t have regulatory approval everywhere,” Musk said, gaining steam. “We will have more than one million robotaxis on the road. A year from now, we’ll have over a million cars with full self-driving, software… everything.”

“The fleet wakes up with an over the air update; that’s all it takes,” Musk continued.

Despite the fact that no car in existence today counts as Level 5-capable, scores of Teslas will apparently gain this hard-fought capability in a year’s time, as well as the governmental go-ahead to operate as a passenger service on all roads, not just in strictly-defined, “geofenced” areas.

“I’m confident we’ll get regulatory approval somewhere,” Musk said.

Not interested in your car becoming a cabbie? The new chip’s power will aid owners (specifically, those who bought the Full Self Driving package) who simply want to cruise with hands off the wheel, Musk said. The CEO added that, as the neural network learns, “we’ll allow users to select a more aggressive [Autopilot] mode.” In other words, a self-driving system that allows “a slight chance of a fender bender.”

Who’s liable in such a collision? Why, Tesla, of course. Musk apparently wants to make his company as open to litigation as he is.

The fallout from Musk’s investor bedtime stories was public condemnation from safety advocates and a stock price that headed in just one direction: down.

“It is damaging to public discussion about advanced vehicle technologies — and potentially unsafe — to refer to vehicles now available for sale to the public using inaccurate terms,” stated Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, a group tasked with educating the public on self-driving technology.

David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports, took Musk to task for his promises, claiming he was “treating the public like guinea pigs.”

“We’ve heard promises of self-driving vehicles being just around the corner from Tesla before,” Friedman said. “Claims about the company’s driving automation systems and safety are not backed up by the data, and it seems today’s presentations had more to do with investors than consumers’ safety.”

[Image: Tesla]

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17 Comments on “Horses and Guinea Pigs: Elon Musk’s Lofty Promises Raise Safety Advocates’ Ire, Sink Stock...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    As I keep saying, these grand promises will self-correct – in court.

    Don’t forget that Volvo made similar irresponsible promises a short time ago. And I’m sure Ford and GM are watching this folly closely as well.

  • avatar

    I’m sure that the statements are based on careful analysis of the litigation risks from over-promising, and found to only marginally impact Tesla profit projections. Instead of losing only 90 cents per share, they will probably lose $1.50 per share going forward, which in today’s market means the Tesla stock price can only go up just like one of Elon’s rockets.

  • avatar

    I would have named it Hash Day as apparently Elon was smoking too much of the stuff before he opened his mouth.

  • avatar

    Dude needs to get more sleep, he’s becoming delusional.

  • avatar

    He’s nothing if not entertaining.

  • avatar

    He’s doubling down on the self driving stuff? Insane. I’m starting to wonder how Space-X is doing so well?

    • 0 avatar

      Gwynne Shotwell runs SpaceX and apparently has the unique ability to make sure Elon keeps his damn hands off of it.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

        There are indications that Shotwell is gradually moving towards the door at SpaceX, including her acceptance of a board spot with Polaris earlier this year. I doubt her pragmatic approach lines up well with Musk’s headlong stumbling towards his pie-in-the-sky Starship.

        This weekend’s Crew Dragon loss (during ground tests of the SuperDraco escape rocket system ahead of a planned inflight abort test this summer) will almost certainly hamper SpaceX’s commercial crew program well into 2020. Boeing’s Starliner isn’t doing much better, but so far has at least avoided major conflagrations.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          “Boeing’s Starliner isn’t doing much better, but so far has at least avoided major conflagrations”

          Boeing is doing much worse, actually. They’ve spent far more money, are way behind schedule, and have never even flown any of the hardware intended for the new craft. At least SpaceX has well-characterized the basic Dragon spacecraft with many ISS flights under its belt.

          But, the latest test disaster is a major setback for them. The Twitter video was frightening.

  • avatar

    “The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.”

  • avatar

    As I tell the Musk fanboys on some other forums, if you really believe this, put every dollar you can beg, borrow or steal in Tesla stock because this will be the hottest deal since credit default swaps in 2008.

  • avatar

    While I’m skeptical about the full self-driving capability (I could probably break it multiple ways pretty easily), Musk is right about LIDAR. I ditched it pretty quick myself after encountering a number of issues. Too many problems. It’s crap.

    Here are just a few of the issues that have been documented. There are others, I just don’t have time to list everything:


    Damaging expensive cameras:

    Precipitation and seagulls:

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Until autonomous systems can handle a blizzard-induced whiteout in a barren Midwestern landscape, it ain’t nothing. Call me when you’re serious, Elon.

    • 0 avatar

      “handle a blizzard-induced whiteout in a barren Midwestern landscape”

      Actually, there are various technologies that can deal with that situation. One technique is that you capture images at a really super high frame rate. Then, you can figure out where the snow particles are in each frame, remove them from the images, then merge the cleaned images for a clear picture better than any human could do. There are also various radar technologies that can find the road. Ground penetration radar mapping of the subsurface signature is being experimented with by some researchers.

      Level 5, when done correctly, can be far superior to any human driver. I don’t think Tesla is at that point yet, but someday, autonomous vehicles will get there. I just hope that manufacturers pushing it out too soon don’t slow progress.

  • avatar

    This guy is irresponsible with his “promises”, all with the intent to juice his stock price. The SEC should slap him with a sizeable fine and force him to SHUT UP. The NHTSA needs to slap a cease and desist order on this charlatan calling his current system “autopilot”. It is no such thing, but people believe it is.

    Completely autonomous vehicles are decades away, if that. He is promising something that is currently impossible. Until that day when they are as safe as commercial aircraft (pun intended)they should be BANNED from public roadways.

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