Tesla's contribution to the self-driving-future:
Tesla Motors is named after electrical engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla. This perfectly represents what the company has striven for from the start in 2003: a fully electrically powered vehicle. Fast forward to 2008: Tesla introduces the Roadster, using an AC motor descending directly from Tesla's original design. The company's first vehicle was the first mass production automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells to drive a greater range than 200 miles per charge.
Today Tesla is run by Elon Musk. Shortly after startup he become the CEO, face and spokesman of the company. After successfully launching the first electric car, he started focusing on self-driving technology. Being more or less a founder of the future, Musk again succeeds to lead the pack and together with Google's prototype he is closest in bringing the first Tesla self-driving car to the common man.
Summon and Autopilot
That common man has experienced self-driving technology mostly through Tesla's innovations, as Google has not yet made any of their prototypes public. Model S, Tesla's first mass production design, is no autonomous car, but gives the driver a taste of the self-driving future. Just like the newer model X, model S combines two of Tesla's technologies: Summon and Autopilot.
Summon is the feature that makes self-parking your vehicle or driving your car out of the garage on itself possible. But Tesla sees bigger possibilities in this technology. Part of Tesla's future is not driving yourself somewhere without steering, but having your car driven to you, wherever you are.
Summon is an important part of Autopilot, Tesla's house-built automatic steering system launched in October 2014. It combines with the speed regulation capability of the automatic cruise control to keep you within your lane, to match the speed of the car ahead, to brake automatically to avoid collision or to change lanes. Autopilot is not autonomous yet, but takes care of the most important driving tasks.
Tesla =/= Google
The main difference between both market leaders is that Google is not a car production company and does not rely on sales. It focuses on getting their self-driving prototype (without brakes or steering wheel) ready for the market, while Tesla is making their models ready for near future sale, but driverless step by step.
Then there are the technical differences, New Tesla models are provided with an ultrasonic sensor, a front-facing camera, a forward radar, and a GPS navigation with high-precision digital maps. In comparison to Google's prototype, Tesla does not use Lidar. Lidar is a radar technique that enables the car to localize its positioning perfectly on an existing map up to 200m range.
But according to Musk, Lidar is too expensive (it can cost as much as $80,000 for just one advanced sensor) and not necessary. Musk continues using GPS and sees more future in active camera's. In comparison to Google's, Tesla acquires Mobileye's camera technology that, mounted on the front of the rear view mirror, allows it to measure distance, read signs, and detect pedestrians on the spot. (UPDATE: On May 7th a Tesla model S crashed in Florida, ending a fatal accident. Tesla's responsibility for the first lethal accident in an autonomous car ended the partnership with Mobileye. Tesla's Autopilot 8.0 now puts more emphasis on its radar function.) For processing all this data, Tesla cars use Nvidia's Drive PX 2 processors.
What's does the future hold?
Tesla continues on making the driverless dream reality, building on Autopilot in models X and 3. Just like Batman, owners will be able to summon their Tesla self-driving car from anywhere their vehicle can physically get to them, charging itself along the way. The timeline for this prediction? End of 2018. That would be at least a year sooner than Google plans on releasing their first self-driving car in public. However, while Musk seems confident about the development of their driverless vehicles, he expects road laws to lag behind and that approval for use on public roads could take longer.
Last updated: 19/03/2016