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Why Tesla Model 3 might be the first autonomous vehicle
Posted on April 18, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Based on conjecture around the Tesla Model 3 interior, we've already predicted that the Tesla Model 3 will have self-driving features that will surprise everyone. We've also examined Tesla's unique self-driving advantages over the autonomous vehicle juggernaut Google. Now a recent article poses a provocative question: Will the Tesla Model 3 be the first truly self driving car? That's the title of a recent New Yorker* piece that makes a compelling case that the Tesla Model 3 is poised to be the breakthrough self-driving vehicle for the auto industry.
The New Yorker explains that Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] current Autopilot system: "gave Tesla access to tens of thousands of 'expert trainers,' as Musk called them. When these de-facto test drivers overrode the system, Tesla’s sensors and learning algorithms took special note. The company has used its growing data set to continually improve the autonomous-driving experience for Tesla’s entire fleet. By late 2015, Tesla was gathering about a million miles’ worth of driving data every day."
Why is this an industry advantage? "To understand how commanding a lead this gives the company [Tesla] in the race for real-world autonomous-driving data, consider the comparably small number... all of them test cars—that some of its competitors have on the road. California, where much of the research on self-driving cars is taking place, requires companies to register their autonomous vehicles, so we know that currently Nissan has just four such cars on the road in the state, while Mercedes has five. Google has almost eighty registered... Ford announced earlier this year that it was adding twenty new cars to its test fleet, giving it thirty vehicles on the road."
How does this differ with Tesla Motors? "By comparison, Tesla has sold roughly thirty-five thousand cars in the U.S. since October of 2014 [with the Autopilot sensor suite]. The quality of the data that these vehicles are producing is unlikely to be as rich as the information the lidar cars are providing, but Tesla’s vastly superior fleet size means that its autonomous cars can rack up as much driving experience every day or two as Google’s cars have cumulatively."
Youtube: SpaceX&Tesla Fan
So what does this all mean for the Tesla Model 3? "With its approach, Tesla has been making a classic information-age wager: that software and processing can beat hardware... [software] can be improved cheaply and continually, and can be updated remotely in an entire fleet of vehicles overnight. The genius of this system is that Tesla doesn’t have to decide up front whether the Model 3 will be self-driving—it can just install the necessary hardware and make the cars autonomous at a later date."
The article predicts self-driving functionality in all situations is unlikely but that a, "much less far-fetched is the idea that the Model 3 will be capable of full autonomy, but in limited settings—which would make it a level-three vehicle under the federal system. Such a car would require some degree of monitoring by a driver, but under the right conditions—say, highway driving—it would allow people to mostly disengage from the task of driving in order to read, check e-mail, or watch a movie. (Some Model S drivers report being able to do so already, though from a safety standpoint they really shouldn’t.) Fully autonomous highway driving would only be an interstitial step... and it will be a major technological coup if Tesla beats Google, Nissan, and GM in the race to deliver."
As the article points out: "Musk has also said [previously] that people should be able to summon their cars from across the country by the beginning of 2018, which happens to coincide with the Model 3’s planned release date." And, furthermore, "Musk capped the [Model 3 launch] night on Twitter, with a cryptic thank-you message that promised more: 'Thanks for tuning in to the Model 3 unveil Part 1! Part 2 is super next level, but that’s for later . . . .'" Perhaps, considering Tesla's rapid self-driving functionality improvements, it's conceivable the Tesla Model 3 could be the first mass-market autonomous vehicle that comes to market.
*Source: The New Yorker