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Transcript: Elon Musk’s press conference about Tesla Autopilot under v8.0 update [Part 7]


This is part 7 and the last part of our transcript of Elon Musk’s press conference about Tesla Autopilot under v8.0 update. You can read the part 1 and part 2 for Musk’s opening statement and part 3 is the first part of the Q&A followed by part 4part 5 and part 6.

Now here’s part 7:

Frederic Lambert – Electrek

[I wasn’t able to record the call and inputs from my own mic so I’m just paraphrasing my question here from what I remember]

Earlier in the call, you briefly mentioned what needed to happen in order to enable these improvements. You said that you got new drivers for the radar and that we managed to make some space in the computing power in the car for the new software.

It’s my understanding that the processing power in the Model S and X is already reaching its limit so with this v8.0 update and new radar processing software, are we reaching the limit of the Autopilot hardware?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO

Yeah it was a hard software problem. I think in term of a macro, major improvements, yes, we are almost reaching the limits, but it is important to emphasise that the fleet learning will continue and the intelligence o f how that fleet learning is applied to the car will continue to improve.

So while we are reaching the limit of the hardware, I think we have not quite yet reached the algorithmic intelligence on the car and of course, anything that’s done on our servers –  we are not computer constraint or space constraint in any way. I think, in fact I’m quite certain that it would continue to improve quite a lot just because the software and the data would improve quite – an enormous amount.

It will continue to improve for years to come even with the existing hardware.

Joe White – Reuters

Hi can you hear me on this?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO

I can yeah.

Joe White – Reuters

Good thanks. I’m sorry I have to retrace steps for my question and see if I can clarify this with you. If I am in a Model X, how many minutes or seconds may I take my hands off the wheel and how many times an hour may I do that? I mean how long are now going to let me take my hands off the wheel versus the previous generation of the system?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO

It actually depends on fast you are going. If you are going in very slow stop-and-go traffic – I believe the threshold is about  8 miles an hour – you can actually take your hands off the steering wheel for indefinite period of times. This is at times where you are basically at walking speed on average on the freeway. there’s no limit on that and I don’t think there should be. That’s also the regulatory limit for automatic parallel parking.

And this is a complicated answer. It’s not as simple as “2 minutes” or something like that. If you are below 45 mph, in theory, the longest you could go is about 5 minutes, but there are actually hands on wheels requirement positions that detects lateral acceleration above a certain threshold. So you would have to be a very straight road – below 45 mph to last 5 minutes.

And then if you are above 45 mph – and again this is a complicated answer and I don’t know how much of this you can put in an article [laughing] – it’s one minute if you don’t have a car to follow. It’s 3 minutes if you do have a car to follow because the accuracy is greater if your follow than if you don’t.

I think that the thing that will probably be most effective is the limit for expert users, which is where we tend to see actually the biggest issue. It’s not with the new users. The new users of Autopilot are incredibly attentive. They pay attention very closely. Intermediate users, same thing. It’s actually the people who know it best, ironically, where we see some of the biggest challenges.

The limitation of only 3 audible warnings per hour [laughing] which is a fair number of warnings, but we see people engaging in reflex actions where they will hear a warning every 3 minutes and they will just touch the steering wheel but not actually pay attention to the road. I think that will be most effective in addressing the instinctive “I want the beep to go away” and touch the steering wheel, it will only allow people to do that 3 times in an hour.

We are also going to provide a visual indicator where the perimeter of the instrument panel lights up with an increasing pulse rate before giving you the audible warning. So that the visual warning is a reminder to pay attention to the road before you  get the audible warning. I beta tested – true beta test, alpha test really – the software personally. I feel strongly in using myself and make sure it’s good before anyone else uses it. I used it on an alpha basis to confirm and it’s good.

I really feel like we’ve struck a great balance between both improving the safety and the usefulness – and the comfort level of the system, and it’s very difficult to do both.

Obviously, you could hamstring the whole system and therefore reduce the action on Autopilot, and it becomes useless and painful to use. Or you can loosen all those limits and have more accidents. So it’s a very difficult thing to both improve the safety and improve the utility of the system which I think we have achieved.

Andrew Khouri – LA Times 

Hi, thanks for taking my question. So other companies like Ford and Volvo say they want to skip over the level 3 automation where the driver and robot share the duties to completely autonomous cars. The idea being that people know they need to pay attention, but a lot won’t. Can you share your views on that subject?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO

I feel quite strongly that as soon as you have data that says that autonomy improves safety – even hypothetically 1 or 2 percent safer – there’s 1.2 million people dying from automotive accidents a year. One percent is 12,000 lives saved. And I think it would be morally wrong to withhold functionalities that improve safety simply in order to avoid criticisms or for fear of being involved in lawsuits.

Jordan Golson -The Verge

Thank you. I just have two quick things. One is I think previously the camera was primary and radar backed that up, right? And now the radar is primary.

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO


Jordan Golson -The Verge

Now what role does the camera play?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO

It’s just going from camera primary supplemented by radar to still using camera supplemented by radar, but in addition having radar become also a primary sensor. It’s no longer a supporting actor, it is also a star.

Jordan Golson -The Verge

So they are sort of side by side now, but it’s not like the camera is being ignored?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO


Jordan Golson -The Verge

And then one last question: How long as this sort of radar primary thing has been in development? Is that something you have been doing in the past couple months since the fatal accident or is this been the primary thing all along?

Elon Musk – Tesla CEO

It’s something that I wanted to do for a while. Probably since late last year, but I was always told that it wasn’t possible, you can’t do it, it’s not gonna work, nobody else has made it work, software is too hard, sensor is not good enough, but I really pushed hard on questioning all those assumptions last 3 or 4 months. Like there got to be a way to make this work and now we believe that there is.

It’s a very hard problem. No one else can solve this. And one could without having all their cars connected and fleet learning. It’s not possible.

[Last statement]

Thanks everyone for being on the call and you know I think this is really going to make a difference, but I do want to emphasise that it’s not going from bad to good. I think things are already good, there are already better than if there wasn’t Autopilot. This is very important to appreciate. This is not going from bad to good. It’s going to good from I think great

And my personal guess is that ultimately that will probably be a 3 fold improvement in safety. That’s approximately where it would asymptote with the current hardware system, which I think is a wonderful thing. And in not a long of time, well for me, I think it’s going to be next year type of thing. Not far. And the great thing is that it doesn’t require any additional hardware. It’s just software over-the-air update. It doesn’t even require for you to bring the car into service. The car could be in Tombouctou and we would be able to update it.

I think this is a really good solution. Perhaps something that other carmakers would think about using as well. [inaudible] Thanks everyone. I appreciate your time.

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