Tesla and Elon Musk’s Approach to Self-Driving Might Be All Wrong
John Krafcik dismisses Tesla as a Waymo competitor
Originally published as a TaaSMaster Newsletter.
Recently the Mobileye CEO, Amnon Shashua, described Tesla’s method of developing self-driving vehicles as a brute force method of gradual beta test improvements that might run into a glass ceiling. Shashua believes Tesla essentially records the wrong part of of the self-driving process. The piling on continued this week as Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, asserted that Tesla is only developing a very good driver assistance system that will never develop into full autonomous driving capability. In fact Krafcik doesn’t even consider Tesla as a competitor at all.
Musk is known for believing the use of lidar sensors for self-driving is an unnecessary (and expensive) crutch. Mobileye, Waymo and others use a combination of lidar sensors combined with high-definition maps in their self-driving systems. The usage of lidar versus Musk’s insistence that lidar is unnecessary is a constant point of discussion in autonomous driving circles. In 2019, one of the early developers of self-driving technology, Chris Urmson (co-founder of Aurora) stated during a Lex Friedman podcast that lidar is in fact a crutch. However for Urmson, the better questions is what’s the cheapest sensor suite that creates a safe vehicle on the road as quickly as possible? If the expensive lidar sensor is required today to make the system work, then it’s the expensive lidar sensor that drives the economic opportunity for a self-driving vehicles. With the correct business model, the cost of the lidar sensor can be absorbed.
If lidar was free, would Elon Musk choose to use it?
Interestingly, when Musk was asked recently by a Wall Street analyst, “if lidar were free, would you utilize lidar for Autopilot? Musk’s reply was, no!” That’s commitment!
What’s more difficult to understand is why many Tesla buyers choose to spend what is now an incremental $10,000 for the full-self-driving (FSD) option that is not completely developed. In fact, some Tesla FSD vehicle owners have been utilized by Tesla as beta testers for the continued development of the technology. Imagine that. These are customers so enamored with the company that they are willing to invest a significant amount of money in a future vehicle capability while helping Tesla actually develop the FSD feature. This points to the power of the Tesla brand with customers.
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