Here’s how Tesla plans to turn their cars into robotaxis, and just why that all sounds a little bit crazy.
Last Monday, Elon Musk announced plans to provide Tesla vehicles with full level 5 autonomy. That’s the kind that doesn’t need any human input at all--the car drives itself. His ambitious plan to have 1 million self-driving Teslas on the road by next year is seen by most as utter insanity considering how every other company in the self-driving market is still light years away from producing a truly self-driving car.
Musk also announced that when every Tesla can drive itself, there’s no reason for them to stay at home collecting dust when their owners aren’t using them. Instead, they could be rented out as a sort of self-driving Uber, generating an additional income stream for both Tesla and the Tesla owner while undercutting the current crop of ride-hailing programs.
Here’s how it’d work: Tesla would create a new ride-hailing app that is basically the same as Uber’s. The owner would be notified that their car is being requested by someone nearby, and then they’d hit “OK” if they don’t plan to be driving any time soon. Then that owner’s Tesla would drive itself to where the customer lives and drive them wherever they need to go.
The Tesla owner would get the bulk of the fare, while Tesla would get between 25% and 30% of whatever the customer pays. This would be a win for everyone as the owner now has a new revenue stream to offset the high cost of their car, the ride-hailing person gets a super cheap robotaxi that’s a fraction of the cost of an Uber or Lyft, and Tesla gets more money by renting out every Tesla on the road.
But there are problems. Lots of them.
First, most Americans don’t feel safe around self-driving cars and don’t want to step foot inside one. Second, Tesla says they can create a self-driving car without the use of LiDAR, a laser-based sensor that creates a 3D image of the car’s surroundings, and that’s counter to what every other car company is doing for safety reasons.
Third, Tesla has already killed two people due to the driver’s reliance on the current Autopilot feature, and there have been dozens of crashes on top of that. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, all of this falls apart if the government steps in with regulations that Tesla doesn’t meet.
But Tesla has never been a company to slow down. They’ve come a long way with an attitude of “just do it”, and maybe that’s the attitude that will drag the rest of the world kicking and screaming into the future.
(Source: Associated Press)