Tesla Self-Driving Rumors Heat Up as ‘Hardware 3’ Spotted in Data Logs

Tesla may be about to announce an update to its autonomous car efforts. Data entries spotted on a Tesla tracking website by eagle-eyed fans reveal a new “HW3” version of the in-car software, a potential reference to the company’s upcoming “Hardware 3” upgrade designed to provide point-to-point autonomous driving with no user intervention.

The logs, spotted on fleet tracking website TeslaFi by a Reddit user called “luketravisellis” and “Packerfan735” before they were deleted, show two data entries within a 10-minute window on Wednesday evening. A Model S P100D in California using the Autopilot 2.5 sensor suite is shown upgrading to a new software version titled “terminal/HW3-mileage.” The entries have sparked a flurry of excitement in the Tesla community. CEO Elon Musk announced on Wednesday that the company will share some news on Thursday at 2 p.m. Pacific time, leading to speculation that the announcement could relate to the autonomous car hardware suite.

Autonomous driving is one of Tesla’s most highly-anticipated projects. In October 2016, Musk announced that all new Tesla cars would ship with the necessary cameras, ultrasonic sensors, GPS and other component to eventually support full, zero driver intervention, autonomous driving. This suite, dubbed “Hardware 2,” ditched the previous MobilEye-powered suite for a system powered entirely by Tesla’s in-house software — a transition that came with some pain points as the firm sought to replicate the semi-autonomous driving functionality of its previous vehicles. Tesla has since progressed beyond the MobilEye feature set, releasing a “Navigate on Autopilot” update last November that meant the car could turn off highways at the correct exit based on the user’s inputted destination.

Musk first announced “Hardware 3” during an August 2018 earnings call, designed to replace the Nvidia Drive PX 2 computer currently used by “Hardware 2.” The company revealed that, over the past three years, it had secretly developed its own A.I. chip 10 times faster than the PX 2, processing up to 2,000 frames per second with full redundancy and fail-over as opposed to the PX 2’s rate of 20 frames per second. The leader of the chip’s development, Pete Bannon, previously designed the processor in Apple’s iPhone 5 and 5S, the latter of which was the world’s first 64-bit smartphone.

Tesla Model S: driver not necessary?

Flickr / hans-johnson

Although Tesla has yet to complete a coast-to-coast autonomous drive, something it promised to do before the end of 2017, Musk has struck a rather more optimistic tone in recent months. In December 2018 he asked for more employees to volunteer to test “Hardware 3,” declaring that its development is “about to accelerate significantly.” This month he declared that the car will be able to drive itself this year, but full driving with zero human intervention will probably take until 2020.

“I think we will be feature complete — full self-driving — this year,” Musk said in an interview. “Meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up and take you all the way to your destination without intervention, this year. I would say I am certain of that. That is not a question mark.”

What does remain a question mark, however, is what Tesla plans to announce and when consumers will get their hands on the new A.I. chip.

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