Tesla’s Magic Number (Newsletter #1)

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Here’s the first edition:

The first edition of a weekly newsletter highlighting the biggest moves in driverless. Please send emails with comments and feedback.

This week in driverless news…

Tesla’s Magic Number

What are the odds Tesla will master Full Self-Driving and convert all of their cars into robotaxis?

That’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? If it doesn’t happen, then Tesla would just be an electric car and battery company. It does make the best electric cars and batteries in the world, so that’s not nothing.

But if Tesla does master Full Self-Driving— before the robotaxi market is already mature— then this is a game-changer. It would mean everyone who owns a Tesla car would instantly become an owner of an Uber driver, ready to work 24/7. It will be quite profitable for Tesla owners and Tesla, itself. So what are the odds?

I’m planting a flag at 30%. There is less than 1 in 3 chance that Tesla will master Full Self-Driving, send an over-the-update, and magically convert every Tesla car into a robotaxi.

Why so high? Tesla has the ability to keep iterating its Autopilot because it has, by far, the most real-world road testing miles. It has had this same vision for the entirety of its company life. I’ve been keeping up with AKarpathy, their AI guy. His team loves him. Things are good.

Why not higher? Well, government regulations, for one. Industries ranging from oil to taxis to carmakers— they all have an existential motivation to kill the electric robotaxi. And, it could just be that Tesla engineers and Tesla AI don’t figure out full self-driving before rivals do, if at all. Science is hard! Then again, betting against the engineering of Elon Musk— say what you will about the guy— is a risky venture, itself.

Baskin-Robbins Robot coming soon…

The problem with vending machines is you have to go to them. Ice cream trucks are fun because they bring delicious food to you. The economics of delivering ice creams is, unfortunately, not good. BUT, eliminate the costly driver, reduce the size of the truck to a small box-on-wheels, and now we’re talking! Enter Ice cream vendbots:

Coming to a beach near you!

The Moral Machine

There is a huge ethical issue with driverless vehicles. Namely, they must be programmed to react in no-win situations. What if a car is forced to choose between hitting a little boy and hitting an old woman… or a dog, or… a doctor? Turns out, people have opinions on the matter! I’ll post the results of a recent survey below. Please send emails and I’ll post the most interesting responses.

If you’re an ex-con, consider wearing a helmet while walking down the street!

Google and Tesla’s Driverless Competition Team Up

Waymo has announced it will soon be launching the world’s first robotaxi service. Tesla is putting 100,000 new Tesla vehicles on the road every quarter. Every other company is far behind.

So what to do if you are Ford or Volkswagen and you are far behind? Wouldn’t you consider pooling resources? In fact, that is just what these two auto behemoths are doing. Such a partnership is no small deal. Given the quarter-millenium of combined corporate knowledge and resources on how to build cars efficiently, a VW-F pairing would instantly become a viable contender in the race for driverless trillions.

Keeping in mind that other European car giants have made friendly overtures with VW, it could be that the legacy car manufacturers are ready to take on the technology companies… together.

The Far Future of Driverless Cars

Big in China: Tiny Electric Cars
Tiny cars, made for a few hundred dollars, that are just big enough for human bodies, is what travel will look like in 2065. Hopefully, it’ll be a little more exciting than this.

See you next week.