Tesla Motors Inc is not just another automobile firm that happens to make electric cars—the firm is a disruptive force that has triggered a paradigm shift in transportation. Tesla has helped make it clear that the world is ready to trade in combustion engines for EVs. The firm also furthered the discussion on the need to take better care of the planet by making transportation greener. Its energy division is also seeking to reduce our over-reliance on fossil fuel while developing efficient ways to conserve and use energy.
However, the next big thing that Tesla wants to show the world is not the mass-market Model 3. An affordable EV for the masses is fait accompli once automobile firms have started thinking about EVs. Even if Tesla didn’t build the mass-market Model 3, another firm would have built an EV for the masses—needless to say, General Motor’s Chevy Bolt would reach the market ahead of Tesla’s Model 3.
Autonomous driving is the next frontier to be conquered in the transportation industry and Tesla has the best–in-class autonomous driving technology on the road now. Tesla’s autopilot program leads the pack among rivals and the firm is making all the right moves to consolidate its lead.
Tesla wants to share autopilot data with DoT
In May, Tesla Motors revealed that the firm has gathered an incredible 780 million miles worth of data on its Autopilot program. The firm also revealed that drivers of its cars have driven about 100 million miles in autopilot mode since it rolled out Autopilot 7.0. More interesting is the fact that Tesla gets about 1 million miles of autopilot data every 10 hours because of the seamless cellular Internet connection between more than 70,000 autopilot-enabled Tesla cars and the central data system for the autopilot program.
Now, Tesla has offered to share the data gotten from its autopilot program with the U.S. Department of Transport (DoT) – Elon Musk also indicated that he has little reservations about sharing the data with other automakers. Tesla has never been big on secrecy, the firm has opened up all its patents to the open source community as part of efforts to stimulate interest in EV technology and hasten the pace of development of EVs.
Now, the firm hopes that releasing its Autopilot data to the DoT will speed up regulators in the development of legal frameworks for the autonomous driving on the roads. Proponents of autonomous driving tech know that they will face an uphill task in getting regulators to trust self-driving cars. Even after there’s enough data to show that self-driving cars are safe, regulators would still want to err on the side of caution by dillydallying in encouraging the adoption of self-driving cars.
Elon Musk sheds insight on how hard it might be to set up the regulatory framework for self-driving cars. In his words, “I think we are basically less than 2 years away from complete autonomy – safer than a human. However, regulators will take I think at least another year, which will of course depend on what part of the world you are in because they will want to see billions of miles of data to show that it is statistically true that there is a substantial improvement in safety if a vehicle is autonomous versus non-autonomous.”
Tesla drivers to earn $1000 by sharing data with MIT
In the spirit of propelling the development of autonomous driving technology, MIT AgeLab is ready to pay Tesla owners up to $1,000 for taking part in a 12-month study for analyzing “advanced vehicle technology use in real-world scenarios.” MIT AgeLab is an offshoot of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics. The study specifically designed for Tesla Autopilot and the main of the study is to find out “which technologies people use or do not use, how people learn and interact with each technology, and which technologies promote safe driving.”
If you happen to have an Autopilot enabled Model S or Model X, you could make $1000 for your troubles if you don’t mind to share your life behind the wheel though “3 webcams, audio, GPS, vehicle telemetry (steering wheel position, etc).” Lex Fridman, a Postdoctoral Associate at the MIT AgeLab however notes that “all equipment we install is removable, has a small form-factor, and does not modify or damage the vehicle in any way”.
Some folks might have privacy concerns about sharing their life behind the wheel with researchers. Yet, many would agree that sharing data on autonomous driving could make it easier to build a fully-autonomous driving technology in the nearest future. Nonetheless, Fridman notes that, “since some of this data may be sensitive, we offer the ability to permanently delete any of this data.”
JB Straubel says Autopilot can’t be stopped
Tesla Motors Inc owns the smartest autopilot program on the market and firm is pushing ahead with its lead in the industry. Tesla’s Autopilot program employs an intriguing machine learning system that ensures that all the autopilot-enabled cars in the fleet learn how to navigate complex road scenarios concurrently.
For instance, if you are driving in your Model S with autopilot engaged on the Interstate and the car strays into another lane because the lane markings have faded, a quick nudge on wheels on your part would return the car the right lane and the car learns not to make that mistake again. However, once you have corrected your car from making that mistake, the information is passed down to all other autopilot-enabled cars in the fleet and no other driver would have to worry about their car straying off its lane.
Tesla noted that even if your car is not on the road at the time of the “machine learning” there’s an “inert” mode that allows engineers to access autopilot data streaming from the vehicles in order to see how your car “would have reacted” if autopilot had been engaged.
JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer was at the International Transport Forum in Germany where he made some interesting comments about the development of autonomous driving. He noted that autonomous driving tech is developing at a “ridiculously fast” rate and that “the trends here are irreversible. We’re not going to see them slow down or stop, and, full autonomy will be achievable from a hardware capability point of view much sooner than most people expect — in a matter of years, not decades.”
Straubel’s position is further buttressed by Don MacKenzie, a University of Washington transportation researcher. He noted that autonomous driving tech is here to stay because it could reduce the cost of traveling by as much as 80%. In his words, “You are talking about a technology that promises to make travel safer, cheaper, and more convenient. And when you do that, you’d better expect people are going to do more of it.”