Data-rich Tesla wrests lead in race for fully func­tional au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By BLOOMBERG

There was, in hind­sight, a clear el­e­ment of risk to Tesla Motors Inc’s de­ci­sion to in­stall au­topi­lot hard­ware in ev­ery car com­ing off the pro­duc­tion line since Oc­to­ber 2014. It paid a price, with fed­eral reg­u­la­tors prob­ing the deadly crash of a Model S while in driver-as­sist mode and crit­ics slam­ming Tesla for rolling the tech­nol­ogy out too soon.

But there was also a re­ward. The com­pany has col­lected more than 1.3 bil­lion miles of data from au­topi­lot-equipped ve­hi­cles op­er­at­ing un­der di­verse road and weather con­di­tions around the world.

In the fran­tic race to roll out the first fully func­tional au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle, that kind of mass, real-world in­tel­li­gence can be in­valu­able. In that way, for now, the elec­tric-car maker has a leg up on com­peti­tors in­clud­ing Google, Gen­eral Motors Co and Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc.

“There’s no ques­tion that Tesla has an ad­van­tage,” said Nidhi Kalra, a se­nior in­for­ma­tion sci­en­tist at the Rand Cor­po­ra­tion. “They can learn from a wider range of ex­pe­ri­ences and at a much faster rate than a com­pany that is test­ing with trained driv­ers and em­ploy­ees be­hind the wheel.”

The au­ton­o­mous autos Goo- gle de­vel­oped have cov­ered 2 mil­lion real-world miles — with em­ploy­ees on board — since 2009, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. Par­ent Al­pha­bet Inc last week spun the self-driv­ing pro­ject into a busi­ness called Waymo.

Uber, which has been pi­lot­ing self-driv­ing rideshare ve­hi­cles in Pitts­burgh, re­cently de­ployed a fleet in San Fran­cisco in its part­ner­ship with Volvo Cars. Each SUV is staffed with two em­ploy­ees, one ready to grab the wheel and the other on the look­out for pedes­tri­ans.

Uber made the move with­out ap­proval from the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles and state pros­e­cu­tors have threat­ened to seek a court or­der to force the com­pany to stop. An Uber ex­ec­u­tive said it’s act­ing “just like Tesla.”

As for GM, it’ ll be putting its flotilla on the streets in Michigan, now that Gover­nor Rick Sny­der has signed a law al­low­ing pub­lic-road test­ing of cars with­out steer­ing wheels, gas or brake pedals — or any need for hu­man con­trol. But GM en­gi­neers will be in the front seats, as they are in test-trips that have been tak­ing place in Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia. Ford Mo­tor Co has been do­ing its con­trolled runs on Michigan roads since 2015, in­clud­ing when it’s snow­ing.

The fa­tal ac­ci­dent oc­curred in May when a man drove his 2015 Model S un­der the trailer of an 18-wheeler on a Florida high­way. Nei­ther the driver nor au­topi­lot no­ticed the white side of the trac­tor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake wasn’t ap­plied, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

The Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in Oc­to­ber that the up­com­ing Model 3, due out in late 2017, as well as all Tes­las now be­ing made at the com­pany’s Fre­mont, Cal­i­for­nia, fac­tory, will ship with an im­proved hard­ware suite that will en­able to­tal self-driv­ing.

While he’s said he wants to demon­strate an au­ton­o­mous cross-coun­try drive within a year, other au­tomak­ers have gen­er­ally ruled out to­tal self­driv­ing ca­pa­bil­ity un­til some­time af­ter 2020.


A test driver demon­strates au­topi­lot fea­tures in a Tesla Model S elec­tric car in Cal­i­for­nia, the US, in Oc­to­ber last year.

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