Tesla’s fully-autonomous driving system is “about to accelerate significantly,” CEO Elon Musk told employees in an email circulated this week. The firm, which announced back in September that it plans to use a team of internal employees as early testers, is now looking for a few hundred more participants ahead of the launch of the in-house A.I. chip.
It’s a big moment for Musk, who announced in October 2016 that all the company’s electric cars would ship with the necessary cameras and sensors to enable full, hands-free autonomous driving at a later date. While Musk promised a coast-to-coast autonomous drive by the end of 2017, that date slipped as the team focused on perfecting a more general solution ready for the mass market. Central to this renewed push is a chip announced in August, developed by Tesla, that replaces the existing Nvidia Drive PX 2 used for the semi-autonomous Autopilot mode with a chip capable of processing fast enough to enable more ambitious uses.
Employees that take part in the program will receive a free upgrade to full self-driving when it launches. This was previously offered as a $3,000 upgrade when purchased with the car or $5,000 after purchase, dependent on prior purchase of Autopilot for $5,000 at time of purchase or $6,000 thereafter. Musk pulled the feature from the order pages in October as it was causing “too much confusion.” Tesla’s latest email suggest the option has risen in price to $8,000.
The new chip is set to stun, resulting in a performance increase of somewhere between 500 and 2,000 percent. Tesla has employed Pete Bannon, who previously designed to chip for the iPhone 5S, to create the new design. It offers processing of 2,000 frames per second will full redundancy and fail-over, as opposed to the previous chip that only covers around 20 frames per second.
Musk estimated in October that the chip would take around six months before it’s in al production cars, placing a release date around April.
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