In his “Artificial Intelligence Podcast” series, Lex Fridman interviewed George Hotz, the founder of Comm.ai (among many other things), in the middle of 2019. Comma.ai focuses on machine learning–based vehicle automation. In the almost 2 hour podcast, Hotz shared his thoughts on a variety of things, including a lengthy discussion of Tesla’s efforts toward Level 5 autonomy.
About 39 minutes into the podcast, Fridman shared his thoughts about Tesla and Autonomy Day and noted that he hoped Tesla would continue in the direction it’s going in. “On Autonomy Day, they did reveal more than — I mean, of course there’s marketing communications you can tell — but it’s more than most companies would reveal, which is … I hope they go towards that direction more — other companies, GM, Ford,” Fridman said.
“Oh! Tesla’s gonna win Level 5. They really are,” Hotz said. As he said that, you could see passion pour into his eyes as he spoke.
“So let’s talk about it,” Fridman said. Hotz explained that Comma.ai is going to be 1–2 years behind Tesla getting to Level 5. “I just think once Tesla gets it, we’re 1–2 years behind.” In a short Q&A with CleanTechnica in 2017 at the rEVolution conference in Paris (which Hotz had to join via webcast after missing his flight from California), Hotz said that Comma.ai would be the Android of self-driving cars whereas Tesla would be the Apple of them. (See the video below.) He repeated that metaphor in the interview with Fridman.
In this 2019 interview, he specifically said that he wasn’t going to make a timeline as to when Tesla would achieve Level 5 (since that’s very hard to predict and isn’t close enough), and he also followed up with a message for Tesla fans and investors: “I’m sorry, Tesla investors, if you think you’re going to have an autonomous robotaxi fleet by the end of the year, I’ll bet against that.” He was certainly right. It is now August 2020 and Tesla vehicles still don’t have the basics of “Full Self Driving” capability.
Fridman’s next question is on Hotz’s thoughts on Tesla’s focus on lane keeping and full autonomy while other Level 4 companies are just focusing on safety. “What do you think about that approach, how successful would it be?”
“A ton better approach. Because Tesla is gathering data on a scale that none of them are. They’re putting real users behind the wheel of cars. It is, I think, the only strategy that works,” Hotz replied.
What Will Happen To The Auto Industry Once Tesla Masters Level 5?
Tesla started out as an automaker with just one car that was well out of the league of many American paychecks. Branded as a luxury automaker at first, it began to evolve. In order for Tesla to achieve all that it has, though, it had to be something that was exclusive for only those who could afford it. That money could have gone into buying private islands, throwing lavish parties, or wasted on drugs — but, instead, it was invested into the future.
Today, Tesla is more than just an automaker. It has become a tech company that rivals not just legacy automakers, but companies such as Nvidia and Intel as well in certain areas. It’s also become an energy company that rivals electric and utility companies — but that’s a topic for another day.
Hotz and Fridman discussed robotaxis a bit, and predicted that Tesla would be first. He doesn’t know when it will happen, but his mission is to be there before others, while acknowledging that Tesla will beat Comma.ai by a couple of years. It was hard for many to see Tesla moving from the original Roadster to the Model 3, Model Y, and Cybertruck, but that’s what has happened. It is hard to imagine Tesla robotaxis really hitting the roads, but Hotz — one of the top experts in this field — sees it as happening. We just don’t know when. Once Tesla paves the way and then other companies such as Comma.ai achieve Level 5, another door into a dimension of possibilities will be opened.
When it comes to jumping into an industry and completely reshaping it, Tesla seems to have a very powerful gift — a gift for innovation and execution. If the company executes “the impossible” again, the entire transportation industry will change.
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