One day in 2017 Tesla owners will wake up and find that their Teslas are now fully autonomous vehicles. A software update downloaded over night in the second half of 2017 – maybe even earlier, or latest in 2018 – will have upgraded the Autopilot and enable the use of the Autopilot Hardware Kit that all new Teslas are being equipped with since October 2016.
The meaning and consequences of Elon Musk’s announcement from October 19th, 2016 is not properly understood by many. In fact, equipping the cars with a several thousand dollar expensive addition that includes eight cameras, ultra sonic sensors, radars, and a high performance NVIDIA processor, and which is currently not being used by the car, is the preparation of a heavy punch that Tesla is readying for other manufacturers.
The difference to the first Autopilot update that positively surprised Tesla owners in 2015 cannot be stressed. While the first update unlocked a more or less good driver assistance system, the 2017 update will upgrade cars that have been manufactured since October 19th 2016 to fully autonomous vehicles.
Because Tesla currently manufactures at least 200 Model S and Model X every day, the count comes to over 1,000 per week that are rolling of the production line equipped with the hardware kit. Since October 19th more than 5,000 of such cars have moved into the possession of owners or reached the dealerships. Every month an additional 4,000 to 5,000 cars are added. When then in 2017 (or 2018) the software update for the Autopilot hardware kit is released, we will see in one instance at least 50,000 up to 100,000 fully autonomous Teslas in the hands of customers. As soon as the Tesla Model 3 production ramps up, another 50,000 fully autonomous cars are added to the tally. And those cars are all electric.
This massive fleet will represent a quantum leap for collecting driving data. Within a few minutes all those vehicles will generate and collect more self-driving data and experiences than for instance all the data that the current technology leader Google has accumulated. We are witnessing here exponential technology. In October 2016 Tesla already had driving data of 222 million miles (355 million kilometers) in Autopilot mode on highways.
This collective driving data is uploaded to Tesla and every other Tesla vehicle will get updates. Tens of thousands of cars that this fleet includes will collectively learn from each other in very short time and reach a level of driving safety that is unprecedented. With that data also government agencies (and insurance companies) will be able to better estimate driving behaviors and pass laws and regulations. Those could lead to restrict road sections to autonomous vehicles, and generally outlaw manual driven cars.
How far Tesla already is demonstrates a video from mid-November, where a Tesla with an Autopilot hardware kit drives fully autonomously through Los Altos.
For other manufacturers this is a nightmare. Neither do they have today cars with such an encompassing hardware kit in production, nor do they own those massive amounts of Autopilot data like Tesla has. Not to mention that Tesla’s vehicles are all electric and the charging infrastructure is already pretty well distributed. The not so distant arrival of self-driving electric vehicles from Tesla in combination with the predictable outlawing of (manually driven) combustion engine cars in German cities should latest at this moment bring other manufacturers into panic mode.