Posted on December 13, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Will there be a massive financial impact resulting from the introduction of fully autonomous vehicles? Yes, but we'll get to that in a minute. First, based on recent data, it appears that Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] is leading the charge towards vehicle autonomy. How so? According to InsideEVs*, Tesla has: "provided some updated data on the number of miles logged both passively and actively for its autopilot system. According to Tesla, even if autopilot isn’t engaged, the system still logs those miles and learns from the driver’s input. For example, the system will record data on speed, steering angle, etc. as a Tesla without autopliot engaged navigate a corner. These passive miles now exceed 1.3 billion."
Above: Tesla Model S (Instagram: migsfotocgi)
For context, earlier this year, we reported that Google had only logged 1.5 million miles driven by Google's 54 prototype vehicles in a small, limited geographic area. Regardless, it appears Google is now pivoting away from its current focus on self-driving tech. But, even if you didn't consider Google the next-in-line for autonomous vehicles, Tesla's still considered the leader in the self-driving technology based on various performance tests from Car and Driver. And, looking at Tesla's recent demonstration drive showcasing their new Autopilot hardware sensor suite, it's clear Tesla is leading the pack.
Above: Tesla Model X (Image: Anton Watts)
Furthermore, even if you only look Tesla's active miles, it's reported that: "On the active side, Tesla says it has more than 300 million miles of data with autopilot engage. Most of this data focuses on driver correction to autopilot plotted courses. For example, autopilot enters a turn, but midway through the turn it records driver correction. Autopilot then remembers this corrected act for the next time it navigates the same turn."
Above: Passive and active miles logged via Tesla Autopilot (Source: InsideEVs* via Mitch Turck)
Looking towards the future, how is all this trending for Tesla? "Both of these mileage figures are increasing exponentially. In fact, it was just in May of this year that Tesla reported 780 million passive and 100 million active miles. With more and more miles under its belt, [Tesla] autopilot is sure to improve. And with both hardware and software updates coming constantly, the system will surely become more and more accurate." In addition, Tesla is now implementing a complete upgrade of its Autopilot hardware sensor suite.
Above: Tesla Model S in Hong Kong (Instagram: migsfotocgi)
To that end, we just caught our first glance (see below) of Tesla's new Autopilot hardware suite. Although we can only see a few, new sensor housings on the exterior, the complete new hardware suite includes: "8 cameras with 360-degree viewing at up to 820 feet of distance, as well as 12 ultrasonic sensors that can detect both hard and soft objects. A new forward-facing radar helps see through rain, fog, and dust." Check out evidence of new sensors from the exterior of the car — based on this video, it's likely these are now being included on Model S and Model X deliveries...
Above: A quick glance at Tesla's new Autopilot hardware suite (Youtube: Black Tesla)
So what's the financial impact of autonomous vehicles likely to be? To explore this further, one of Tesla's competitors (Nissan) actually published an informative infographic* — in Europe alone, it will contribute a staggering €17 trillion to the EU economy by 2050. In summary: "autonomous vehicles will start adding 0.15 percent to Europe’s annual growth rate in the decades to come. As a result, the European (EU-28) gross domestic product will, cumulatively, be 5.3 percent higher in the year 2050 than currently, by which time autonomous vehicles will have contributed a total of €17tn to GDP." That said, Tesla's competitive advantage in autonomous driving should prove significant in the years to come.