The company is 'progressing rapidly' towards its goal of a coast-to-coast drive without a human touching the controls.Tesla appears to have reported a significant breakthrough in its Autopilot software architecture, promising to hasten the rollout of new features."Now that the foundation of the Tesla vision neural net is right, which was an exceptionally difficult problem, as it must fit into far less computing power than is typically used, we expect a rapid rollout of additional functionality over the next several months and are progressing rapidly towards our goal of a coast-to-coast drive with no one touching the controls," Tesla wrote in its Q3 letter to investors.
The company has faced growing criticism for delaying activation of certain features, such as automatic emergency braking, when launching significant Autopilot hardware revisions. The stalled timing has hinted at efforts to redevelop new software from the ground up, without relying on third-party suppliers, such as Mobileye, to create subsystems that only provide partial automation.
Tesla appeared to have ousted a top Autopilot software engineer earlier this year. The departure of a traditional programming guru coincided with the arrival of Andrej Karpathy, an artificial intelligence expert who previously created a system to derive complex image descriptions using a "deep neural net."
Separate reports suggest Tesla may be spearheading development of a specialized AI chip with help from AMD.
"I'm confident that we can get to approximately human level [safety] with our current hardware," CEO Elon Musk said during the Q3 analyst call. "And yeah, we'll have more to say on the hardware front soon, we're just not ready to say anything now. But I feel very optimistic on that front."
Buyers currently face an option to prepurchase full autonomous capabilities that will be enabled at a future date. The company previously claimed no hardware changes would be required. Now, however, the promise has been hedged with a commitment to simply swap out the computer if an upgraded unit is required to run the necessary software.
Musk suggests it is impossible to know what the software/hardware requirements will be without first knowing the safety margins (above current human incident rates) that will be mandated by regulators.
"They may say, it needs to be 50-percent safer, 100-percent safer, 1,000-percent safer, I don't know. I'm not sure they know either," he warned. "If it does turn out that ... a computer upgrade is necessary in order to meet regulatory requirements in that area, we will replace the computer with something with greater power."
The company is confident Level 5 autonomous driving is only two years away.