Tesla CEO: Self-driving taxi fleet to hit U.S. roads next year

April 24, 2019

At an event to promote his company's autonomous technology, Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Monday said that a fleet of self-driving taxis will be on the road as early as next year.

The New York Times reported on Musk's comments following the presentation. Musk said the self-driving "robo taxis" will be ready by the end of 2020 thanks to a new Tesla-made computer. He added the company is close to building cars that can drive themselves on any street and in nearly every situation. Such a car would leapfrog current self-driving technology, which hovers around Level 2 and Level 3 on the SAE autonomy scale and requires constant human driver monitoring. Despite hyperbole from automakers and technology companies, there is not a single self-driving car on sale today.

The SAE calls full autonomy Level 4 or Level 5, the highest on its scale.

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Tesla, however, is known for introducing bold claims and needing to scale promises back later on. Numerous instances include Model 3 production figures, timetables for new car launches, and more.

Powering Tesla's rocket into the autonomous car business is what Musk called "the world's fastest computer" capable of conducting 144 trillion operations per second. According to the report, Nvidia disputed Tesla's claim and said it currently has a computer that can handle 320 trillion operations per second. Musk also reiterated that Tesla won't use lidar for self-driving systems. Instead, Tesla autonomous cars will rely on radar and cameras.

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Lidar has become an essential part of nearly every automaker and technology company's self-driving system. The laser-based radar uses light to measure the distance between a self-driving vehicle and an object. Effectively, it allows the autonomous car to "see" the world more clearly and make decisions.

Musk said he has a solution to ditching lidar, however. Tesla is also working on "neural networks" of computers that will mimic the human brain. With such computing power, lidar will be unnecessary, Musk believes.

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