Promise Hour: Tesla Broadcasts Self-driving Tech to Perk Up Investors

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
promise hour tesla broadcasts self driving tech to perk up investors

Tesla celebrated “Autonomy Day” on Monday, broadcasting a web presentation to investors touting its self-driving strategy — part of CEO Elon Musk’s attempt to prove that the manufacturer’s longstanding commitment to the technology will bear fruit. While the mood was undercut by news of one of its vehicles spontaneously combusting in a Shanghai parking garage, the company stayed the course, focusing on autonomy instead of electrification.

Still, it wasn’t the fire that had investors seeking comfort. Tesla’s promise of fully self-driving vehicles is years old, with Musk initially pegging 2018 as the target date. That didn’t happen, with 2018 turning out to be the year the company faced elevated scrutiny over the effectiveness of its Autopilot system after a series of high-profile crashes.

The broadcast began about 30 minutes later than anticipated but, once up, Tesla hit the ground running. Musk claimed (once again) that LiDAR is not the way to go for totally autonomous driving, calling it a “fool’s errand.”

He instead suggested that the key to success involves a proprietary neural processor that the company has tasked Samsung to build.

“It seems improbable. How could it be that Tesla — who has never designed a chip before — would design the best chip in the world? But that is objectively what has occurred,” Musk said. “All Teslas being produced right now have this chip … All Tesla cars right now have everything necessary for FSD. All you have to do is update the software.”

FSD is the computer that’s said to enable full-self driving via future over-the-air software updates, thanks to help from from a small and robust CPU. But that’s only half the battle.

Tesla showcased the problem of identifying objects by showcasing a lizard, boat, pair of scissors, and a cello — noting that, while it’s easy for us to differentiate between them, a computer just sees a mass of pixels with different brightness values. However, the myriad of angles, colors and shapes practically every object can assume makes the process infinitely more complicated.

The solution? Artificial neural networks. While much simpler than what exists inside your own skull, Tesla says it can feed images into a vast network and effectively let its system learn what’s what over a period of time. The entire presentation wobbled between being overly technical for average folks and insultingly simplistic. But the gist is that the company sees another hardware upgrade as the path to self-driving glory.

Musk claimed that the new chip would be about three times better than the current one and take another two years to get here. He also noted that FSD has built-in redundancies that should make it bulletproof, saying the system was less likely to fail than a human brain. But it will need to be updated remotely and fed a lot of data if it’s to function properly, meaning Tesla will continue to snatch fresh data from its vehicles for years to come — as simulated data has been deemed insufficient by the company.

“Using simulators, it’s like grading your own homework,” Elon joked.

While this paints a clearer picture of how Tesla plans to tackle self-driving in the future, it doesn’t sound terribly different from its current strategy. The company has amassed driving data from its customers for years; all this amounts to is even more robust hardware — which it has released before and promised would result in complete vehicular autonomy. That’s not to say Tesla isn’t on the cutting edge of neural network processing or that it won’t work, just that we’ve heard this song before.

Investors are expected to take a ride in vehicles equipped with the company’s latest self-driving system later today, so we’ll see how it’s all coming together. Naturally, it’s doubtful any of them will have anything overtly negative to say. At worst, the company’s share price maintains its current trajectory. Tesla’s still making headway in the world of autonomy, even if that progress is not quite as swift as Waymo’s.

[Image: Tesla]

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  • Conundrum Conundrum on Apr 23, 2019

    "The fundamental message that consumers should be taking today is that it’s financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla, ” the CEO of the electric auto maker said after Monday’s robotaxi announcement. “It would be like owning a horse in three years. I mean, fine if you want to own a horse. But you should go into it with that expectation.” So all you insane dawn and dusk nosebag oat-fillers out there, remember, Dobbin's days are numbered! No more kegs of Bud Lite! Teslas will run the world and we'll have a million robotaxis by next year, Uber is toast, all it takes is an over-the-air update and the Muskies will come alive! Alive I tell you! Ah, ha ha ha."

  • Tylanner Tylanner on Apr 23, 2019

    There is always room for a new wave of investors.... I think what used to be called Tesla investors are now referred to as Millionaires.

  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.
  • SCE to AUX One data point: my rental '23 Model 3 had good build quality, but still not as good as my Hyundais.Test mule aside, perhaps the build quality of the CT will be good in 2027.