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Tesla says robotaxis coming to AMERICAN roads next year, slams rivals’ use of Lidar

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – the Chief Executive Elon Musk says Tesla Inc robotaxis with no human drivers would be available in some U.S. markets next year, the continuation of a habit of bold statements that excited many investors, while often missing deadlines.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla logo is seen in Los Angeles, California, USA January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“Probably two years from now we will have a car on the steering wheel and the pedals,” Musk predicted, although he acknowledges it is often too late to meet the ambitious goals.

Central to this promise is a new microchip for self-driving vehicles unveiled by Musk on Monday during a webcast presentation. Made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in Texas, the chip is now in all vehicles is to hope to give Tesla a competitive edge over rivals and show his massive investments in autonomous driving – described by Musk as “the fact is that our entire account structure” – will pay.

The webcast presentation came two days before the Tesla is expected to announce a quarterly loss on reduced quantities of the Model, the 3 sedan, which stands for Tesla’s attempt to make a volume car manufacturer.

After the launch of the event with detailed technical descriptions of Tesla progress of the hardware and software of top executives, Musk began hawking the Model 3 and its potential.

“The basic message, the consumer should take away today, it’s financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla. It is like buying a horse,” says Tesla was the only company that fully self-driving suite of hardware.

Tesla’s use of the term “fully self-driving” garners criticism, if it sells one such option today, that is still not “Level 4”, or entirely independently by the industry standards, where the car can cope with all aspects of the drive, in most cases without human intervention. Musk has said that with the hardware complete, improvements in the software for making vehicles fully drive themselves in the future.

The technology faces many legal obstacles, both in Washington and local governments.

The global car manufacturers, large technology companies and startups are developing a self-drive, including the Alphabet Inc Waymo and Uber Technologies, Inc – but experts say it will take years before the systems are ready for prime time.

“A year from now we will still have more than a million cars with a fully self-driving, software, everything,” Musk predicted.

Tesla has been working on a self-driving chip since 2016, and Musk had earlier predicted that the car would be completely self-driving by 2018, target Tesla has missed.

Investors seemed unfazed by the chip announcement, but shares rose slightly in after-hour trading following the announcement of the robotaxis.

Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said Tesla’s robotaxi ambition “impressive”, but added that investors will be concerned by “the practicality and financial implications of this aim especially with Waymo miles ahead of the organic competition.”

More pressing for analysts, he said, were the concerns about the demand for the Model 3, and whether Tesla can seek new financing.

“DOOMED” RIVALS

Musk took a swipe at competitors to rely on Laser, light-based sensors which are an important element in most of the other self-driving systems.

“Lidar is a fools’ message. And everyone that will appeal to Lidar is doomed,” said Musk, who has already spoken about the technology’s limitations. Tesla vehicles rely on cameras and radars as their vision system for self-drive.

Competitors will eventually be a “dump” Lidar, he said: “It is expensive and unnecessary and once you are resolved vision is worthless.”

More than $1 billion in corporate-and private investment is ploughed into around 50 Lidar startups over the past three years, including a record $420 million in 2018, according to a Reuters analysis of publicly available investment data in March.

Musk referred to Tesla’s new chip in the industry is the best, because it was specifically for autonomous driving, while others, such as Nvidia Corp, has developed chips for multiple applications.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends the Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory groundbreaking ceremony in Shanghai, China, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

Tesla’s chip was able to get seven times as many frames as Nvidia’s Xavier system, said Pete Over, Tesla’s head of the auto-pilot hardware. Nvidia said the comparison is incorrect.

AMERICAN magazine Consumer Reports warned against Tesla’s “bold claims about self-driving opportunities that overpromise and underdeliver.”

“Claims about (Tesla) drive automation systems and safety are not supported by the data, and it seems today the presentations had more to do with investors than the consumers’ safety, ” wrote the publication.

Reporting by Alexandria Sage in San Francisco and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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