The advancement in technology has been evident in the automotive industry. For a while now, Tesla, an American automotive and energy company, has been flaunting the idea of developing fully self-driving cars. This, they say, will require little to no human effort to move around. However, Tesla's ambition has been received with a wave of uncertainty, given that the public is still warming up to the idea of an autopilot system in cars.
Tesla; The E-Car Manufacturer
Tesla was founded in 2003 with a vision to develop electric vehicles that are better and faster in comparison to gasoline cars. Tesla's vision has already been evident with its launch of the world's first premium all-electric sedan in the Model S series. There are also the Model X, Y, and Model 3 from this automotive manufacturer.
Tesla Publicizes Self-driving Vehicles
In April 2019, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, publicized the company's interest in launching driverless vehicles. According to the CEO, these fully autonomous cars will be able to navigate congested streets and traffic easily, without human control. In the same vein, these self-driving vehicles should grace public roads by the end of 2019, but no later than 2020.
Some capabilities of the fully self-driving cars that were outlined by the American company include:
- Drive on autopilot on the highways
- Ability to change lanes automatically
- Overtaking slower cars
- Ability to recognize and respond to traffic lights
Similarly, Tesla had revealed a new chip on April 22, 2019, in an invitation-only event for investors at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, California. The chip which Musk calls "the best chip in the world," will be paired with the company's proposed fully automated vehicles to improve their level of performance.
Tesla's New Chip for Self-driving Vehicles is Less Likely to Fail
While Musk opined at the time that there is still the potential for this chip to fail. He added that it is less likely to do so compared to a human losing their consciousness while at the wheel. "Any part of this could fail, and the car will keep driving," Musk said. The CEO further outlined that new cars produced by Tesla will have the required hardware for them to have a full self-driving capability. All that will be required is an update to their software.
"We will have more than one million robotaxis on the road...A year from now, we'll have over a million cars with full self-driving, software... everything," Musk said.
To that effect, Tesla has already prepared 400,000 vehicles that could potentially take advantage of the self-driving feature. These vehicles will rely on eight cameras that cover 360 degrees, front-facing radar gathering data, and short-range ultrasonic sensors. What's more, Tesla's Full Self Driving (FSD) option that unlocks the vehicle's Enhanced Autopilot feature sells for $5,000 and $7,000 if installed after delivery.
Skepticism About Tesla's Fully Self-driving Cars
There have been several criticisms about Tesla's need to launch automotive vehicles. Many experts have opined that it is impractical to have a car that takes full control without human intervention in case something goes wrong.
Others have remarked that the Navigate on Autopilot feature which Tesla launched for these vehicles is limited and still have a long way to go. It may allow these self-driving cars to handle tasks such as acceleration, lane changes, and braking; however, the driver may need to be attentive and take control of the vehicle when there's a need for that.
Likewise, Steven E. Shladover, a retired research engineer at the University of California, Berkeley also remarked that Tesla's fully self-driven car is a hype. Shladover also said the technology to build fully autonomous vehicles does not exist to meet Musk's claims. What's more, Musk does not have this technology, and neither does anyone.
Fully Self-driving Vehicles are Not as Safe as Humans
Amnon Shashua, CEO of Mobileye, an Israeli autonomous vehicle computing company, also opined that vehicles with front-facing radar and 360-degree cameras could drive autonomously; however, these vehicles are not as safe as human drivers.
In Shashua's opinion, humans can drive smoothly for 10 million hours carefully. On the contrary, the same cannot be said about cars without full redundant sensors.
Before this time, Tesla had already offered a regular Autopilot system that can accelerate and also bring cars to a halt, steering accurately on highways, and most especially, observing traffic lights. Nonetheless, this system was still monitored by a driver. Despite this close monitoring, there were reported cases of a crash while these vehicles were driven.
Events of this nature have made the reliability of Tesla's Autopilot system questionable as well as the safety of its proposed fully self-driving vehicles. There are also regulations the car manufacturer may have to contend with before its cars are allowed on the streets. In California, for instance, a permit might be required to prove that these vehicles can drive safely without human assistance.