Posted on January 12, 2017 by Matt Pressman
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the buzz was all about autonomous vehicles. While companies boasted about new tech, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] holds a unique advantage. Scott Ritcey via Seeking Alpha* reports that Tesla, "has been able to log more than 1.3 billion miles of data from its Autopilot-equipped vehicles in a myriad of real-world road, traffic and weather conditions... This has given Tesla a leg up over its self-driving competitors, including Google and Uber." And it has provided Tesla a serious advantage over other automakers as well.
Above: Tesla Model X (Image: Tesla)
Furthermore, Ritcey noted, "In his 'Master Plan, Part Deux' released in June, Elon Musk stated that it would take something on the order of six billion miles (10 billion km) before worldwide regulatory approval with significant time gaps varying widely by jurisdiction. Tesla's current fleet of 150,000 vehicles is learning at a rapid pace. Back in October, Tesla reached the 3 billion electric mile milestone. On Dec. 26, the company's counter on its 'Electric Road Trip' webpage reflected that its fleet has managed to add 500 million in less than three months."
Above: Tesla's electric miles driven as of December 26th (Image: Seeking Alpha* via Tesla)
Why is all this important? "Musk has the unique advantage of being able to retrieve real-world data, all across the globe, with people of all shapes and sizes behind the wheel. Google, by comparison, has only covered 2 million real-world miles over the past seven years, and that was with employees on board." Last month, at the LA Auto Show, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, delivered his keynote address and proclaimed, "When it comes to the car of the future and automated driving experiences...data is literally the new oil."
Above: Intel CEO Brian Krzanich delivering his keynote address at the LA Auto Show (Image: Seeking Alpha*)
While Intel is working to make in-roads in autonomous driving technology, Nvidia (Tesla's partner) remains the de facto industry leader. Nvidia's CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, stated that Tesla "sent a shock wave through the automotive industry" after introducing their Autopilot hardware 2.0 sensor suite. In addition, he said: "(Tesla is) basically five years ahead. Anybody who's talking about 2021... that's just a non-starter anymore."
Above: Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang talks with Tesla CEO Elon Musk (Image: Nvidia)
Ritcey notes, "Tesla's compilation of autonomous data is vastly ahead of its self-driving competitors in Detroit and Silicon Valley. The long-awaited Model 3, with production beginning mid-2017 and delivery estimates for new reservations set for mid-2018 or later, is slated to be equipped with full (i.e., SAE level 5) self-driving capabilities. Tesla has stated that it intends to deliver 500,000 vehicles by 2018, down from 2020. If that could be achieved, there would almost be a million Tesla vehicles on the road generating over 30 million miles (50 million km) of data daily."
Above: Levels of vehicle autonomy (Image: Intel)
This could play into giving Tesla a significant "first mover" advantage. According to a working research paper at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, F.M. Scherer said: "In industries such as aircraft, semiconductors, and solar converters, unit production costs fall with additional production and hence 'learning by doing.' The first mover begins progressing down its learning curve sooner than others and may therefore enjoy a substantial cost advantage over latecomers."
Above: Example of how Autopilot was a life-saver for this Tesla owner (Youtube: NEWS 11 30)
Nidhi Kaira, a senior information scientist at the RAND corporation, a non-profit think tank, says: "There's no question that Tesla has an advantage. They can learn from a wider range of experiences and at a much faster rate than a company that is testing with trained drivers and employees behind the wheel." To that end, Ritcey concludes, "Tesla has started a data arms' race. The other vehicle makers are behind the eight ball, and will need to spend an enormous amount of money to gather a lot of data, fast, in hope of keeping pace."
*Source: Seeking Alpha