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Elon Musk says Tesla robotaxis will hit the market next year

CNBC logo CNBC 4/22/2019 Lora Kolodny
Elon Musk© John B. Carnett / Getty Elon Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the company should have robotaxis on the roads in 2020.

"I feel very confident predicting autonomous robotaxis for Tesla next year," Musk said on stage at the Tesla Autonomy Investor Day in Palo Alto, California. They won't be "in all jurisdictions, because we won't have regulatory approval everywhere, but I am confident we will have at least regulatory approval somewhere, literally next year," he said.

Musk based his optimism on the amount of data his company is able to gather from Tesla vehicles already on the road today, which it then uses to improve its software.

All Tesla cars being produced today have the hardware on board that's required for full self-driving, Musk said, promising that, "all you need to do is improve the software."

While Musk repeated that Tesla will have over 1 million robotaxis on the road next year, and he expects to be "operating robo-taxis next year with no one in them," the CEO did also warn investors, "Sometimes I am not on time, but I get it done."

He also predicted within two years the company will be making cars with no steering wheels or pedals.

Musk and a Tesla Director, Pete Bannon, who is a former Apple exec, showed off Tesla's latest chips emphasizing how they were designed to process massive amounts of data quickly, without significantly heating up, or draining the vehicles' batteries.

Bannon claimed the chips can potentially perform 7 times better than a competing product from Nvidia, its Xavier chips. New chips already in development at Tesla are likely to arrive in two years, Musk and Bannon said. The company is currently manufacturing its chips with Samsung in Austin, Texas they revealed.

Currently, Tesla offers Autopilot-- an advanced driver assistance system -- as a standard feature in its cars. According to the company's website, Autopilot can automatically hold a car in its lane and accelerate or brake automatically, for example, in response to pedestrians or other cars in its way. Tesla can improve Autopilot with new features (or bug fixes) over time via over-the-air updates, as well.

In addition, Tesla sells a "Full Self-Driving," or FSD, package for its vehicles for $5,000 or more if the software is installed after the vehicle is initially purchased.

FSD features today include "Summon," which lets a driver call their Tesla to roll out from a parking spot to where they are standing (with no driver on board). And FSD lets drivers "Navigate on Autopilot," automatically driving their car from a highway on-ramp to an off-ramp, making necessary lane changes along the way.

Later this year, Tesla's website says, cars with FSD should be able to read and respond properly to traffic lights and stop signs, and drive automatically on city streets.

Even with FSD, Tesla's cars are not considered "driverless," meeting that they meet the SAE Level 4 standard, that means the car can handle every aspect of driving in some conditions without any human intervention.

Tesla also cautions its drivers, "Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous." In other words, while tempting, drivers aren't supposed to zone out, or drive hands-free even if they have Full Self-Driving.


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