Tesla boss Elon Musk has weighed in on Waymo’s announcement that it has opened up self-driving rides to the public, saying that while Waymo’s autonomous driving technology is “impressive”, Tesla’s technology has a wider range of applications.
Waymo said on Thursday (US time) that it would open up driverless rides initially to members of Waymo One in Arizona, then accept more riders via a smartphone in coming weeks.
The announcement comes some 3 years after the company first started its early rider program, that saw members of the public sign non-disclosure agreements in return for a first taste of riding in a car with no driver.
Waymo wants to provide driverless rides (aka robo-taxis, as coined by Musk) in a Uber-style service, but without the driver, first in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. Its self-driving technology differs from Tesla’s in that it uses a suite of sensors – including LiDAR – situated atop hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
Tesla, by comparison, eschews LiDAR (Musk has famously said anyone relying on the laser-based sensors is doomed to failure because of their expense and drain on power). Instead, Tesla is employing a range of sensors including eight cameras as well as sonar and radar sensors).
But according to Musk, despite the fact that Waymo has already conducted between 5-10% of its rides in 2020 without a driver, he believes that the platform is too restrictive.
“Waymo is impressive, but a highly specialized solution. The Tesla approach is a general solution,” said Musk on Twitter in response to a series of tweets by Tasha Keeney of disruptive investment form Ark Invest.
Waymo is impressive, but a highly specialized solution. The Tesla approach is a general solution. The latest build is capable of zero intervention drives. Will release limited beta in a few weeks.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 8, 2020
Musk did not elaborate on exactly what he meant by “general” as opposed to Waymo’s driverless rideshare goals, but one can infer that he means Tesla’s full self-driving software and hardware is being developed not only as a platform for Tesla robo-taxis, but also for privately-owned – and fully electric – vehicles.
Musk also said that Tesla’s “latest [software] build is capable of zero intervention drives” and reiterated that a limited beta release would be rolled out in coming weeks.
The latest software roll out of Tesla’s FSD software comes after Musk noted at the company’s Battery Day that it had undergone a “fundamental rewrite” to further improve upon its labelling of objects.
Keeney’s tweets included Ark Invest research that suggests despite delays in achieving truly autonomous and safe driving technology, the driverless ride-share industry could be worth $9 trillion by 2029.
5/ While it's incredibly hard to predict exactly when breakthroughs will happen, the future cash flows off of global robotaxis should still be worth $1-2T today, even if its a year (or two!) late: https://t.co/VIVLpYXzc4 pic.twitter.com/nbZ9i2vFMG
— Tasha Keeney (@TashaARK) October 8, 2020
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.