Tesla founder Elon Musk has announced his second Master Plan, outlining four major ambitions for the company.
These are focused on solar power, a ten-fold improvement to self-driving car software, the creation of self-driving trucks and buses, and making it possible for self-driving cars to make money for their owners by operating as taxis when not in use.
The focus on solar power has seen Tesla make an offer for SolarCity, a firm of which Musk is chairman, with the idea of offering quick and easy roof deployments of solar panels that are simple to manage.
“[We will] create a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar roof with battery product that just works, empowering the individual as their own utility, and then scale that throughout the world. One ordering experience, one installation, one service contact, one phone app,” Musk wrote.
This will also feed into Tesla’s plans around battery storage, as Musk explained. “Now that Tesla is ready to scale Powerwall, and SolarCity is ready to provide highly differentiated solar, the time has come to bring them together,” he said.
Trucks and buses
The second major development is to move Tesla self-driving car development into two major new areas: trucks and buses.
“Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year,” said Musk, explaining that self-driving vehicles in these areas will have major benefits.
“With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager," he said.
"Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the centre aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses.
“It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don't have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.”
Complementing this is the third part of the new plan, which is to improve the software powering self-driving cars by a magnitude of 10 so that Tesla's Autopilot self-driving function can be considered safer than human drivers.
“As the technology matures, all Tesla vehicles will have the hardware necessary to be fully self-driving with fail-operational capability, meaning that any given system in the car could break and your car will still drive itself safely,” he said.
Musk also defended the fact that Autopilot is live in some Tesla vehicles, even if it is still way below the level it can reach, claiming that having it operational is better than not at all as it can provide huge safety benefits.
“Used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability,” he said.
“According to the recently released 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, automotive fatalities increased by eight per cent to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day.
“It would no more make sense to disable Tesla's Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named.”
Autopilot prevents serious injury or death of a pedestrian in NY (owner anecdote confirmed by vehicle logs) pic.twitter.com/NceuqckqCK— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 21, 2016
Finally, once Tesla vehicles have reached this level of sophistication, Musk envisions a future in which owners can allow their cars to be used as part of a ‘Tesla Fleet’. The vehicles can be on call for others, allowing owners to make money by effectively renting out their cars when not in use.
"You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting, and at times potentially exceeding, the monthly loan or lease cost," he wrote.
"This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for five to 10 per cent of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not."
He added that in cities where demand exceeded supply, Tesla would operate its own fleet of self-driving cars on call, effectively moving the firm into the taxi business.
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