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

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]

Join the conversation
2 of 28 comments
  • 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.

  • Scott Mopar4wdthanks for those stats. But if 40% of suv buyers are 65+ that is not a long term strategyat 70 I’m perhaps not germane as I have only 2 cars now and replace only when they’re stolen
  • Mopar4wd I think the real question is when every EV can be optioned to be startlingly fast, you need something else to differentiate. Handling features etc, outright acceleration may not be as much a measure as it once was. That's the real problem I see for Dodge, their best bet would seem to be making them look way better than the competition.
  • Dukeisduke The wheelcovers with all the little round holes are from Pontiac, like the Catalina.
  • DungBeetle62 "Mark III would make its branding as exclusive as possible... " Meanwhile, 40 years on down the road every single Lincoln product was "MK _____"
  • FreedMike It is kind of refreshing to see an off-roader that is focused on the basics of off-roading, versus convincing its’ owner that he’s the real-life incarnation of the Punisher, and the owner of the largest penis in human history.