Teslas to get new self-driving, Autopilot chip in spring 2019

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Tesla Model 3 dashboard in Autopilot testing with IIHS [CREDIT: IIHS]

Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk took to Twitter Tuesday to announce that owners will get a new Autopilot chip in about six months that will be much more powerful and enable the company’s long-awaited Full-Self Driving Mode.

In a series of tweets, Musk said that owners who have prepaid for the Full Self-Driving Mode feature in their cars—which is still not operational—will get the new chip for free when it becomes available.

Other Tesla owners who want better performance for their car’s Autopilot system—which is a combination of adaptive cruise control and active lane control—can buy the new chip for $5,000, along with the Full Self-Driving option. It’s not clear whether there may be a delay between the new chip’s arrival and the ability to engage Full Self-Driving Mode.

The new chip is designed to power the company’s neural-network artificial learning system that gathers data from all Tesla drivers (or at least all those with Autopilot 2 hardware) to teach and inform the company’s Autopilot system as well as the Full-Self Driving Mode that Tesla is developing.

Tesla says the new chip, developed in-house, is the first designed specifically to run such artificial-learning neural networks and that it uses the same connectors and dimensions as the Nvidia chip the company currently uses, so owners can have it swapped directly.

In a second tweet on Tuesday, Musk said the new chips will be 5 to 20 times faster than the current Autopilot chip.

Tesla began selling the Full-Self Driving Mode feature in its cars in late 2016 but has yet to implement the software to make it run. Buyers who pre-order the feature get a discount compared with those who wait for it to become available.

Musk says the cars will be significantly safer than a human driver once the system is developed, but this year at least three Teslas were involved in high-profile crashes when the cars were under Autopilot control. Another high-profile crash in 2016 was blamed on Autopilot’s inability to distinguish a semi trailer turning left across the highway.

Autopilot offers a lower level of automation than Full Self-Driving Mode, and critics say drivers have become overly reliant on it.

The company announced it was developing the new chip in its earnings call last June. In his Monday tweets, Musk revealed some of its capabilities, pricing, and availability.

In the June call, Musk said that the first abilities of the Full-Self Driving Mode will be limited to “on-ramp to off-ramp” freeway driving.

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