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Musk teases Tesla’s Au­topi­lot

‘Amaz­ing’ fully self-driv­ing sys­tem is ‘a month or so’ away

- Chris Wood­yard

The fully self-driv­ing car is about to take a step closer to real­ity. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tues­day that the test ver­sion of the com­pany’s Au­topi­lot sys­tem will be re­leased in “a month or so.” While he didn’t de­scribe its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Musk said that once it’s out, “you’ll see what it’s like. It’s amaz­ing. It’s clearly go­ing to work.” A num­ber of star­tups and es­tab­lished au­tomak­ers have been rac­ing to de­velop self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy. While it has been fielded in tests, a sys­tem that com­pletely drives the car in all cir­cum­stances with­out driver in­put is yet to be­come a fea­ture on pop­u­lar cars. Tesla’s cur­rent sys­tem re­quires driv­ers to al­ways pay at­ten­tion be­hind the wheel and, frankly, it’s not clear how far Tesla’s next step will go. Musk spoke at the com­pany’s an­nual stock­hold­ers meet­ing, a drive-in the­ater-style event be­fore a sea of Tesla own­ers in their cars, done in the name of so­cial dis­tanc­ing. They honked in uni­son when­ever Musk an­nounced promis­ing devel­op­ments. Musk had said that the com­pany’s lat­est elec­tric cars have all the hard­ware they need for self driv­ing. All they were miss­ing was the soft­ware. To ac­com­plish the next step, Musk said his team has to com­pletely re­write the Au­topi­lot soft­ware. He has been test­ing the cut­ting-edge ver­sions him­self. While a self-driv­ing car would cer­tainly be con­ve­nient, Musk added that safety could be the great­est ben­e­fit. Musk said he was con­fi­dent that an ad­vanced Au­topi­lot would al­low Tes­las to be­come 10 times less likely to be in­volved in a se­ri­ous crash than the in­dus­try av­er­age. “That’s a lot of lives saved and a lot of in­juries avoided,” Musk said. Tesla has seen its for­tunes zoom fi­nan­cially this year. By mid-Au­gust, its val­u­a­tion al­ready was three times the value of Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors and Fiat Chrysler com­bined. It did it by cre­at­ing ve­hi­cles that cap­tured the hearts of cus­tomers with their plug-in elec­tric driv­e­trains and the prom­ise of self-driv­ing. In keep­ing with their emo­tional spirit, Tesla cre­ated the Mod­els S, X, Y and Model 3 that to­gether spell SEXY – if you flip the 3 back­ward. But the com­pany’s plans go­ing for­ward, as out­lined to in­vestors, are de­cid­edly un­sexy by com­par­i­son. Musk said he ex­pects all au­tomak­ers to even­tu­ally of­fer their own elec­tric and self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, so Tesla will stand apart by be­com­ing the low-cost pro­ducer. He said he plans to wring so many cost sav­ings from pi­o­neer­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques and bat­tery in­no­va­tions that the com­pany will be able to of­fer a true low-priced, self-driv­ing elec­tric model. “I think prob­a­bly about three years from now we are con­fi­dent we can make a very com­pelling $25,000 elec­tric ve­hi­cle that’s also fully au­ton­o­mous,” Musk said to a round of ap­prov­ing honks. Be­sides the four sedans and SUVs, the com­pany plans to sell elec­tric semitrucks and a rad­i­cal, an­gu­lar elec­tric pickup truck. Musk said about 500,000 peo­ple have pre­ordered the Cy­bertruck, Tesla’s name for the pickup. Asked about the fu­ture of to­day’s gaso­line-pow­ered cars, Musk said he thinks their mak­ers are doomed in the long run. All ve­hi­cles, he pre­dicted, run more ef­fi­ciently on elec­tric­ity ex­cept rock­ets. Pis­ton-pow­ered cars will be­come a cu­rios­ity, he said, not­ing that there are “some steam en­gines some­where.”

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