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Tesla CEO Talking With Google About ‘Autopilot’ Systems

*from www.bloomberg.com, May 7, 2013 (To view original article click here.)

Take Away #1: Elon Musk said Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) is considering adding driverless technology to its vehicles and discussing the prospects for such systems with Google Inc. (GOOG)

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Elon Musk is the California billionaire who leads Tesla Motors, the electric carmaker.
  • Musk said technologies that can take over for drivers are a logical step in the evolution of cars.
  • He has talked with Google about the self-driving technology it’s been developing, though he prefers to think of applications that are more like an airplane’s autopilot systems.
  • “I like the word ‘autopilot’ more than I like the word ‘self-driving,’” Musk said in an interview.
  • “’Self-driving’ sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. ‘Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars,” said Musk.

Take Away #2: Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, is considering such technology as regulators and long-established automakers grapple with when and how it can be used to increase safety and driver convenience.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Global automakers such as Nissan Motor Co., and government officials say fully autonomous vehicles may not reach dealer showrooms for a decade, twice as long as Google expects.
  • Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both investors in Tesla before its 2010 IPO, have been proponents.
  • Google has been demonstrating a driverless fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids equipped with laser-radar devices mounted on the roofs.

Take Away #3: “The problem with Google’s current approach is that the sensor system is too expensive,” Musk said.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • “It’s better to have an optical system, basically cameras with software that is able to figure out what’s going on just by looking at things,” said Musk.
  • Google, in an e-mailed statement, declined to comment on Musk’s comments.
  • Google’s approach builds on a push for the driverless-car technology long pursued by the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
  • The agency has held vehicle competitions for carmakers and research labs.
  • Anthony Levandowski, product manager for Google’s self-driving car project, has said the company expects to release the technology within five years.

Take Away #4: Musk is determined to bring the cost of the Tesla’s cars down so that the company can sell to mainstream consumers.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Tesla’s Model S sedan has a $69,900 base price, and Musk says the company still intends to squeeze expenses to offer a model for about $30,000 within a few years.
  • The Roadster, the company’s first offering, started at $109,000.

Take Away #5: Tesla slid 3.2% to $57.62 at 12:32 p.m. New York time, down from yesterday’s record $59.50 closing price.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Tesla shares soared 76% this year through yesterday, outpacing the 14% rise in the Russell 1000 Index.
  • Tesla said it will report its first quarter profit from sales of all-electric Model S sedans when the company releases first-quarter results tomorrow.

Take Away #6: Google’s driverless technology is guided by Sebastian Thrun, former head of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Thrun led the Stanford team that won a $2 million prize in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge of autonomous vehicles.
  • Thrun’s team won the challenge finishing with the best time on a rugged 132-mile (212 kilometer) course in the Mojave Desert.

Take Away #7: I think Tesla will most likely develop its own autopilot system for the car, as I think it should be camera-based, not Lidar-based,” Musk said. “However, it is also possible that we do something jointly with Google.”

Key Facts and Figures:

  • “We’ve had some technical discussions with Google” about its Light Detection and Ranging, or Lidar, laser tracking system, Musk said last week.
  • Musk noted that it’s an expensive approach however, that may not prove feasible.
  • Musk wrote a follow-up post on Twitter about Google.
  • “Am a fan of Larry, Sergey & Google in general, but self-driving cars comments to Bloomberg were just off-the-cuff,” Musk wrote.
  • “No big announcement here,” wrote Musk.

Take Away #8: While crash-avoidance systems that can alert a driver or apply brakes in advance of a wreck are coming to cars now, autonomous vehicles “are a long way off,” said David Strickland.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • David Strickland is the head of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • “Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do,” Musk said.
  • Google’s self-driving cars are currently allowed on public roads for testing purposes in Nevada, California, and Florida.
  • Toyota Motor Corp., also a Tesla investor, in January showed a driverless test vehicle in Las Vegas equipped with a Lidar device, radar and cameras and sensors – something more like the approach that Musk suggests.

Take Away #9: Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, wants to create a virtual “co-pilot” that helps drivers avoid accidents, rather than self-driving cars and trucks.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Tesla isn’t discussing driverless-car technology with either Toyota or Daimler AG, which is also a shareholder, Musk said.
  • “We’re not focused on autopilot right now; we will be in the future,” Musk said.
  • “Autopilot is not as important as accelerating the transition to electric cars, or to sustainable transport.”
  • “Creating an autopilot for cars at Tesla is an important, but not yet top priority,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “Still a few years from production.”

*To view original article from www.bloomberg.com click here.

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