Tesla Robo Taxis: How Elon Musk Says They Will Work — and When

Elon musk

Tesla has imbued its cars with the hardware necessary to become fully self-driving. Now, it wants to make it so Tesla owners can loan out their car to become a part of a near-future fleet of robo taxis that the company calls, the Tesla Network. CEO Elon Musk said on Monday it will be at least partially operational by 2020.

During an investor day dedicated to Tesla’s self-driving efforts, Musk laid out his plans to turn Tesla cars into a hybrid, ride-sharing network. He hopes to leverage this to let Tesla cars earn money for their owners by driving other people around when they would otherwise be parked.

Musk hopes to have over one million robo taxis on the road by 2020. A massive fleet of autonomous cars that he envisions driving city-goers from Point A to Point B, while their owners sleep.

tesla elon musk robo taxi network

“I feel very confident in predicting autonomous robots taxis for Tesla next year,” said Musk. “Not in all jurisdiction because we don’t have regulatory approval every where. But I’m confident we’ll have regulatory approval anywhere somewhere next year. From our standpoint, if you fast-forward a year, maybe a year and three months…we’ll have over a million robo taxis on the road.”

In a year’s time, Tesla drivers could be working to backup for the cost owners paid for them. Here’s everything you need to know about the Tesla Network


Tesla Network: How Will It Work

All Tesla customers will be able to join the Tesla Network regardless if they own or are leasing a vehicle. By using the currently available Tesla app, drivers will be able to add their car to the network whenever they’d like. The optimal time for this would be when they’re sleeping, working, or don’t need to go anywhere.

tesla elon musk robo taxi network

“So any customer will be able to add or remove their car to the Tesla network,” explained Musk. “Expect this to operate like a combination of the Uber or Airbnb model.”

Tesla will take “25 or 30 percent” of the revenue generated from each ride, which is roughly the amount Uber takes out of each ride fare. But that doesn’t mean participants won’t be able to make a decent amount of cash while they’re sleeping.

Tesla Network: How Much Money Could It Make You?

Tesla estimates that customers can make about 0.65 cents per mile. The company calculated that if a single robo taxi driver 90,000 miles in one year it could make about $30,000. That would be most of the money back from the purchase of a $35,000 Model 3.

tesla elon musk robo taxi network

These calculations were made using broad generalizations that could vary depending on how much someone needs to use their car. The company also states that loaning a vehicle at this rate would make it last about 11 years before it begins to significantly deteriorate.

Tesla Network: What Cars Will Be Compatible

Musk states that Models 3, S and X will be available to join the Tesla Network. Even those leasing Model 3s will be able to join the ride-sharing system, but Musk did stated that all customers who lease must return their cars to Tesla after the contract is up.

tesla elon musk self driving robo taxis

Tesla’s custom-made, self-driving chip is literally a tiny brain in every car, just behind the glovebox. It makes use of neural networks to process outside data gathered from the vehicles’ eight cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

Musk hopes to have full self-driving (FSD) in over a million cars by mid-2020. He said that the quick roll-out will be enabled by the fact that Tesla owners have the hardware already, now all that’s left is the software update. Those could all be implemented through a series of over-the-air updates.

Tesla Network: Where Would This Be Most Popular

Musk predicts that while robo taxi popularity will inevitably grow in the next couple of years, it’ll be primarily focused in cities.

“The power of the system has a massive impact on city range, which is where we think where most of the robo taxi market will be,” he said.

For less-populated areas, Musk said that Tesla would provide dedicated cars to taxi users. He said these will be capable of parking and charging themselves at predetermined stations.

tesla elon musk self driving car network

Tesla Network: What Hurdles Are Left?

Regulatory approval is the biggest hurdle Tesla needs to clear to get its robo taxi service off the ground. But power usage is a close second.

As it stands, Musk revealed that the self-driving features take up about 4.5-kilowatt hours. He hopes to improve that to “five and beyond,” in the future. But navigating through densely populated, metropolitan areas could be more intensive.

Getting Teslas to autonomously navigating cities takes much more of the car’s battery power than driving down a highway or large rural roads.

“It depends on the nature of the driving, as to how many miles that [self-driving] affects,” he said. “In-city it would have a much bigger effect than on-highway. If you’re driving for an hour in the city and you had a solution, hypothetically, that for a kilowatt you’d lose four miles on a Model 3. So if you’re only going 12 mph, then that would be a 25 percent on range in-city.”

tesla elon musk self driving robo taxi network

All of that number crunching is done in real-time, meaning the car is actively making decisions on its own. That’s the feature that saps a little extra juice out of, say, the Model 3’s 310-miles of range.

Tesla is forced to have its vehicles carry out its computations on board. It’s the only way to get the cars to make split-second decision without having to transmit road data to Tesla servers.

Tesla’s robo taxi vision might have a few road bumps ahead, but its largely cleared the hurdle of getting necessary hardware to enable self-driving to consumers. Now, the company needs to gain regulatory approval and fine tune its hardware and software to reduce self-driving’s affect on range. After that, it could be a robo taxi future for you and me — and the myriad of new issues that will inevitably arise.

Email the author: danny.paez@inverse.com.

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