Tesla will make own chips to enhance Autopilot

Wall Street analysts focused on Tesla’s reiteration of its profitability for Q3 and Q4, which made the stock jump 10%. But just as significant was Tesla’s newly announced commitment to to making its own chips:

Elon Musk: With the Tesla computer – and we’ve been like semi-stealth mode basically for the last two to three years on this – but I think it’s probably time to let the cat out of the bag because the cat’s going to come out of the bag anyway. It’s the world’s most advanced computer designed specifically for autonomous operation. The current NVDIA-based hardware can do 200 frames a second, this is able to do over 2,000 frames a second and with full redundancy and fail-over. I made it easy to switch out the computer, and that’s all that needs to be done. If we take out one computer, plug in the next. That’s it. All the connectors are compatible and you get an order of magnitude, more processing and you can run all the cameras at primary full resolution with the complex neural net. So it’s super kick-ass.

Getting into the weeds on the new Tesla chip was Pete Bannon, Tesla’s director of silicon engineering (you heard that right):

The chips are up and working, and we have drop-in replacements for S, X and 3, all have been driven in the field. They support the current networks running today in the car at full frame rates with a lot of idle cycles to spare. Nobody was doing a bottoms-up design from scratch, which is what we elected to do. We had the benefit of having the insight into seeing what Tesla’s neural networks looked like back then and having projections of what they would look like into the future, and we were able to leverage all of that knowledge and our willingness to totally commit to that style of computing to previous design that’s dramatically more efficient and has dramatically more performance than what you can buy today.

Tesla made a point to raise the profile of the Autopilot/AI vision team as well, giving them significant time on the stage to highlight the program. Musk, on the status of Autopilot:

We might be able to pull off coast-to-coast demo before the end of the year. But right now we’re focused on the version 9 software release, which we’re hoping to get out 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.

Tesla’s increased car production and profitability were nice for the short-term cash concerns, but longer-term, it’ll be the success, or lack thereof, of it’s autonomy that determines whether Tesla becomes a historical side note or a truly revolutionary company.