Is a real, honest-to-goodness, self-driving Tesla on the way?


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has suggested that the electric-car maker soon will take a step that could lead to the company’s cars being capable of driving themselves. Musk, in response to an inquiry about Tesla’s hardware systems, said the company could offer its new Fully Self Driving chip — FSD for short — as an upgrade to more than 500,000 older-model Teslas by the end of this year.

“End of Q4, most likely,” was how Musk replied to a question about when the company would start retrofitting cars that currently include Hardware 2 (HW2), a set of sensors, radars and cameras that Tesla rolled out almost three years ago, with the implication that such cars would eventually have full, autonomous driving capabilities.

Musk’s comment wasn’t the first time he mentioned that self-driving features would be available by the end of 2019: In April, he made similar comments during a presentation to investors. He also said that robotaxis would be deployed next year.

“All HW2+ cars are upgradable to full self-driving capability with Tesla FSD computer,” Musk tweeted. “This is why it’s possible for Tesla to have a million robotaxis by end of 2020 if we upgrade existing HW2 fleet of ~500k & make at least ~500k FSD cars.”

Tesla owners who previously paid $6,000 for an additional package of what the company calls “full self-driving” technologies will be able to receive a free upgrade of the FSD chip when it becomes available.

Tesla currently offers drivers packages of semi-autonomous driving features for their vehicles. The most common of these is Autopilot, which is standard in new Teslas and has features such as lane recognition and steering. Tesla’s other package, FSD, includes an active guidance system that can direct a car from freeway off-and-on ramps, and make lane changes.

However, neither Tesla nor any other car in the U.S. is yet capable of — or legally permitted for — fully autonomous driving on the nation’s highways.

The FSD chip is a matter of pride as much as technical innovation for Tesla. It’s the first such chip designed completely in-house at Tesla, and Musk has said it has 21 times the performance of the Nvidia chips it will replace. When Tesla unveiled the FSD chip in April, the company said it would include it in its new Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicles.

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