Musk’s bets on Tesla: humanoid robots and self-driving cars

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The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown on autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage/File Photo

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Jan 27 (Reuters) – Tesla’s most important products this year and next will not be cars, CEO Elon Musk said on Wednesday, but software that drives them autonomously and a humanoid robot the company hopes to help in the factory.

The bold promises of the electric car industry’s best-known billionaire face major challenges, from technology to regulation. Tesla and other auto tech companies have missed their targets for self-driving software for years.

“I like that they push the envelope, but I think they’re too aggressive,” said Craig Irwin, an analyst at Roth Capital Partners.

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Musk has built a career defying doubters with companies active in electric cars and rockets. Some Tesla drivers are buying $12,000 self-driving packages in the hope that full range is near, and 60,000 Tesla drivers are testing the latest self-driving software, a scale that others Autonomous vehicle software vendors can only dream.

“I would be shocked if we didn’t achieve safer-than-human fully autonomous driving this year. I would be shocked,” Musk said, predicting that fully autonomous driving would become “the most important source of profitability for Tesla.” .

“It’s very good from a financial point of view,” he said, saying that robotaxis would increase a vehicle’s usefulness fivefold, because owners can send their cars to work when they’re not. are not necessary.

Tesla uses cameras and artificial intelligence, eschewing other technologies such as radar and lidar that include rivals such as Waymo. This approach drew fire.

“You have to be able to not only see a person, like right in front of you, but you have to do it, with 99.999999999% reliability. Even running over someone once is not an acceptable response,” said Austin Russell, CEO of lidar. manufacturer Luminar, told Reuters.

Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has worked on autonomous vehicle safety, said a big problem is that on a large scale, unusual cases can constantly arise.

“Without a human driver to manage safety in new situations, machine learning has not yet been taught, it is very difficult to provide safety in a fully automated vehicle,” he said.

REGULATION

Even if the technology works, Tesla (TSLA.O) would face tougher scrutiny from regulators before rolling out free-roaming robotaxis fleets. U.S. auto safety regulators have launched a safety investigation into Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system after crashes involving parked vehicles and emergency vehicles.

Federal vehicle safety regulators have issued guidelines to states, but not comprehensive standards governing self-driving cars.

There are some states whose laws will require approval of a fully autonomous vehicle, Koopman said.

Just a year ago, Musk said on an earnings call that he was “very confident the car will be able to drive with above-human reliability this year.”

Tesla’s Autopilot engineer at the time, CJ Moore, told the California regulator last year that Musk’s tweet about self-driving technology “does not correspond to technical reality.”

Musk also said engineers were working on launching a humanoid robot next year, called Optimus, which could eventually solve global labor shortages and, in the short term, might be able to transport items. in a factory.

“To perform dangerous and repetitive tasks, using a humanoid robot is exactly the wrong approach,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Musk, however, says the robot may be more important than a car. “This I think has the potential to be bigger than the auto business over time,” he said.

Shares of the company, which forecast supply chain issues to persist through 2022, fell about 1% in premarket trading. Read more

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Editing by Peter Henderson and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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