Sandy Munro recently made a visit to the Gateway to Mars — also known as Boca Chica — and had a one-on-one interview with Elon Musk. You can watch the video below, but following the video are some quick takeaways in text format. Before getting started, Munro gave a special mention to John from Silicon Valley Tesla Club for providing a ride-along with FSD Beta and to Jehn from SpaceX for coordinating the interview.
Autopilot & UFOs
Sandy Munro went for a FSD Beta ride-along with John from Tesla Owners of Silicon Valley and he mentioned a few problems. “We did have problems,” Munro said, “But the problems weren’t with your system. They were with the roads, people painting … either they don’t paint in certain areas, or they paint right in the center. So how are we going to get legislation to make it so that things are consistent between states? In the old days, it probably didn’t make much difference, but now, we’re moving into self-driving.”
Elon jumped in with his thoughts on this, “I think, for self-driving, even if the road is painted completely wrong and a UFO lands in the middle of the road, the car still can not crash and still needs to do the right thing. So, what really matters — the prime directive for the Autopilot system is don’t crash. That really overrides everything. No matter what lines say or how the road is done, the thing that needs to happen is minimizing the probability of impact while getting you to your destination conveniently and comfortably.”
This part of the conversation reminded me of this article I wrote during my first few months of writing for CleanTechnica. Back in 2019, Tesla’s Autopilot detected something and immediately had the driver pull over. That something was a meteor falling from the sky. David, who tweeted about it in the tweet below, shared his thoughts with me then.
“It wasn’t the loud collision alarm that sounded. It was just the ding, ding. Autopilot not available, please take control message,” said David, who also mentioned that it was dark, storming, and the highway was empty. David told me his son suddenly exclaimed, “What the…?” right when something green silently passed by.
In David’s own words, “The meteorite broke down through the low clouds and became visible just in front and to the left of the road. Autopilot saw the meteorite a full second before we were able to see it. It was only visible for a few seconds as it flew further to our left and disappeared.”
You can read more about David’s experience here.
Munro’s Issue & What Could Have Happened If He Crashed — And Elon’s Response
Elon Musk emphasized again that the prime directive of Tesla’s self-driving system is to minimize the probability of injury to yourself or to anyone on the road, including pedestrians. “It can’t be dependent on the road markings being correct or anything like that,” Elon added.
Munro shared that he believes that the road commissions need to “shape up” and shared the issue that he had with FSD Beta. “What happened was: they painted all kinds of lines all over the place, there was an old offramp and a new offramp, and a bunch of cones, and some flashing red lights,” Munro said as he described literal road chaos. “I had no idea — if I had to take that thing, and I knew I had to take it, I would be totally confused as to what to do where, but when the car came into it, the lines are telling it to ‘okay, go here’ and that scared the living daylights out of me,” he said.
Munro takes it further by calling out concerns regarding how the media would have covered it if the car had crashed. “If we would have crashed, the press would have instantly said it’s all your fault. In essence, the fault lies in this massive mess that we were trying to keep up with.”
Indeed, even up till now, every time there is an incident involving a Tesla, people and headlines blame Tesla — not the driver. “Oh, a Tesla did this” or “a Tesla did that” when in actuality it was the operator of the vehicle who wasn’t paying attention.
Elon responded: “It would certainly be helpful to have roads with accurate markings and everything, but, like I said, really for self-driving, even if somebody tries to trick the car, they do not succeed in tricking the car — ’cause, you know, people will do weird things. So, it’s got to be maintain safety no matter what and don’t let yourself get tricked.”
Another topic the two talked about is Tesla’s megacastings. “Your philosophy about getting rid of lines of code — well, I have a philosophy about getting rid of parts,” Munro said, referring to the general idea of less being more. “In fact, a long time ago when I counted up the number of things in the wheel area, I said, ‘this should all be one part,’ and then, you got it.”
Elon shared more on this from Tesla’s point of view. “You can generally see the organizational structure errors — they manifest themselves in the product. The sort of wheelhouse areas of the body, there was a lot of engineering done, and there were a lot of right answers to the wrong question. Somebody would say, ‘well, what the best material to make this little section of the body out of?’ and ‘what’s the right material to make this little section?’ — and I think we’ve got probably the best material science team in the world at Tesla, and then actually a lot them also do work at SpaceX as well — so the engineers would ask, ‘what’s the best material for this purpose? … the best for that?’ and they got like 50 different answers, and they’re all true individually, but they’re not true collectively.
“When you try to join all these dissimilar metals, dissimilar alloys, you have galvanic corrosion, so you’ve gotta have better sealing, and you’ve got gaps that you’ve gotta seal, and then you’ve got to join these things ….” he continued to describe several ways that engineers tried to solve these problems and said that when you look at it all together, it looked sort of like a “Frankenstein situation” on the whole. “I cannot emphasize enough the nightmare of sealing in between the gaps. That might be the most painful job in the whole factory,” Elon said.
“You can muscle through it — and we have — but it’s way better to have a single-piece casting, and then you don’t have any gaps, no sealant, you don’t have dissimilar metals. And you can reduce the size of the body shop dramatically. Just having the rear body casting for the Model Y reduced the body shop by 30%.” Elon mentioned the robots and that, with the rear body casting, Tesla got rid of 300 robots. “You want fewer things, not more,” he said. Tesla plans to get rid of 300 more robots with the front body casting.
With some prompting, he also noted that at some point they’d probably switch to a single-piece casting for the Model 3 and Model Y — but that would happen later after getting the Texas gigafactory and Berlin gigafactory going. “It’s hard to change the wheels on the bus when it’s going 80 mph down the highway.”
Crossover Point For EVs
Munro has said before that the crossover point for electric vehicles over internal combustion engine (gas/diesel) vehicles is 2030, and he brought this up with Elon in the interview. “Amazingly, that was because of tearing apart your car — the Model 3,” he told Elon. “50% of the vehicles sold — well, more than 50% — are going to be pure EV or they’re going to be hybrid.”
“I think it probably, I think it’s probably — ten years — probably majority EV,” Elon agreed, and Munro said that he truly believes this. He also touched upon what analysts were saying a couple of years ago without going too deeply into this. He noted that many analysts would say that maybe around 2045 EVs would be at 15%, but currently California is at 8% and rising. “And then you’ve got Europe saying, ‘Forget it — you can’t drive here if you’ve got an ICE vehicle,’ on and on and on. So, a lot of people were hoping that everything was going to stay the way it was or basically go back to ‘the good old days,’ as it were. I was not. I was in your camp,” Munro said.
One new piece of info is that the refreshed Model S and Model X will make the switch to a lithium-ion 12V battery, which will excite many CleanTechnica readers.
Elon Musk and Sandy Munro also spoke about electronics and wiring, seats, MBA’s short selling stocks, production hell, structural battery packs, LEGOs, carbon fiber, and more. You can watch the full interview here.