Tesla had a very eventful earnings call recently, especially concerning their autopilot. Tesla says that they will release a 9.0 software update within 4 weeks and even more excitingly, they have developed brand new hardware from the ground up bringing in Autopilot hardware 3.0
Autopilot Version 9.0
It has been almost two years since Tesla released version 8.0 in 2016. According to Elon Musk version 9 will be available in about four weeks to those in the early access program according to the earnings call transcript.
“… version 9 software release which has got a number of really cool things in it. And we’re hoping to get that out to early access program in about four weeks and then broadly in September. That’s the hardcore focus right now, and that will certainly include some significant advancements in autonomy. And then once that’s out and stable, I think that could be a good time to work on the coast-to-coast drive.”
One of the highly touted features will be the ‘On-ramp to off-ramp’ feature. Stuart Bowers, VP of Engineering said as such during the call:
“So right now, a lot of the focus is on Autopilot v9, which is our sort of on-ramp to off-ramp solution that’s going to automatically attempt to change lanes, understand what lane the car is in, understand the route the user wants to travel and take that route for the user and ultimately hand back control to that user which is kind of stay in control.”
This feature was supposed to be released in 2017, but has been suffering delays over the past year. Musk has stated that this update would include some Full Self Driving features, and this is one of the features that might push Autopilot from being level 2 to level 3.
Its interesting to note that Musk believes that the coast-to-coast autonomous drive that was supposed to happen last year will be done by the end of this year.
Some other features that were revealed with this update are an updated interface the match the new capabilities of Autopilot. The other, is a partnership with Atari to bring games easter eggs to the new version. One of the games, Pole Position, will be able to be played with the steering wheel. So this seems like a nice time waster while waiting at a supercharger.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 1, 2018
Hoping to include last three in this release, with pole position linked to actual car steering wheel (while stationary tbc haha)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 1, 2018
Autopilot Hardware 3.0
Arguably even more exciting than the software update, is the new hardware that Tesla has built from the ground up. Back in 2016 Tesla had hired chip architects from AMD without much word about what exactly what they were for (although, it wouldn’t be hard to guess).
Peter Banon, the current head of Hardware 3 development has stated that the chips will be “drop-in replacements for S,X, and 3, [and] all have been driven in the field.” All the connectors are the same and so an upgrade from autopilot 2.0 or 2.5 is as simple as swapping out the computer for the new one.
Currently Tesla is using an NVIDIA chip for their Autopilot, but Musk has stated that the transfer of date from GPU to CPU was a bottleneck in the system during the earnings call:
“Our current hardware, which – I’m a big fan of NVIDIA, they do great stuff. But using a GPU, fundamentally it’s an emulation mode, and then you also get choked on the bus. So, the transfer between the GPU and the CPU ends up being one of the constraints of the system. “
Musk calls this hardware “the world’s most advanced computer designed specifically for autonomous operation”. Where the current system is able to do 200 frames per second, this new hardware is able to do over 2,000 frames a second with full redundancy.
Best part is that Musk stated that this hardware does not cost anymore to produce than the old chips, so it shouldn’t cost them too much to replace, which will be free as Autopilot 2.0 was advertised to be fully autonomous ready.
The switch over to the new hardware will happen somewhere around next year.
So a lot of exciting stuff is currently happening for Autopilot. Hopefully some major strides in autonomy can be made within the next 6 months.
Tesla producing their own chip from the ground up raises the question of whether or not other automakers should follow suit. Will most just keep a very close relationship with chip makers like AMD, Intel, or NVIDIA?Autonomy systems will continue to compete with each other and one way to stand out might be to make your hardware yourself. But will the investment be worth it?
What do you guys think? Let us know down in the comments below.