Elon Musk wants testers for Tesla’s long-awaited ‘full self-driving’ A.I. chip

The Tesla CEO said the Hardware 3 upgrade has "1000 percent more capability" than the current hardware.

  • Elon Musk is looking for a few hundred more people to test and provide feedback about Tesla's long-awaited Hardware 3 update, according to an internal company message.
  • Hardware 3, first announced in August, will likely expand the autonomous abilities of Tesla cars.
  • It's still unclear just what those expanded capabilities will be, however.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants "a few hundred" more people to test out the company's new Autopilot Hardware 3, the long-awaited neural net technology that the company has said will give cars "Full Self-Driving Capability" for $8,000 plus the price of the car.

It's been hard to pin down details about Hardware 3. Musk had once promised that Tesla cars would be able to provide a coast-to-coast autonomous drive by the end of 2017. Of course, that never happened, though the cars do offer limited self-driving capabilities, including:

  • Autosteer, which detects painted lane lines and cars to keep you in your lane automatically
  • Auto-lane change
  • Summon, an option that starts the car and brings it to you
  • And the abilities to take on/off ramps, pass slow cars and park automatically

In September, Tesla announced that it planned to use a team of internal testers to test an early version of Hardware 3. One month later, the company removed an option from its website that let customers pre-order "Full Self-Driving Capability." Musk said the controversial option was "causing too much confusion."

Now, an internal Tesla message, ostensibly from Musk, shows that the company is offering to swap out Hardware 2 for Hardware 3 in the cars of anyone, customers or employees, who chooses to participate in the testing program. It's the "last time the offer will be made," the message reads.

Will the update really make Teslas "full self-driving"?

Telsa CEO Elon Musk unveils new vehicle. Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

It's unclear, exactly. The website 1reddrop, which covers Tesla news and technology, wrote that Tesla is focusing on improving GPS technology, and that increased computing power in Hardware 3 will translate to lower latency and quicker reaction times. Also, it could enable the cars to keep better live maps of roads:

Every Tesla with Autopilot engaged sends a ton of information back to the company's servers, and this information can be used to maintain live maps that are constantly being updated.

The biggest problem for Tesla right now is reliability. Autopilot hardware 2 and 2.5 are now stretched to their physical limits, but Autopilot Hardware 3 will be far more powerful in that it can process a lot of the information on-board.

Whether this means Teslas will be fully self-driving remains an open question. It also depends on how you define the term.

​The Society of Automotive Engineers' 6 levels of driving automation

The Society of Automotive Engineers maintains six categories of self-driving capabilities (descriptions listed below). Right now, Tesla cars exist between levels two and three, arguably.

  • Level 0: Automated system issues warnings and may momentarily intervene but has no sustained vehicle control.
  • Level 1 ("hands on"): The driver and the automated system share control of the vehicle. Examples are Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), where the driver controls steering and the automated system controls speed; and Parking Assistance, where steering is automated while speed is under manual control. The driver must be ready to retake full control at any time. Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA) Type II is a further example of level 1 self-driving.
  • Level 2 ("hands off"): The automated system takes full control of the vehicle (accelerating, braking, and steering). The driver must monitor the driving and be prepared to intervene immediately at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly. The shorthand "hands off" is not meant to be taken literally. In fact, contact between hand and wheel is often mandatory during SAE 2 driving, to confirm that the driver is ready to intervene.
  • Level 3 ("eyes off"): The driver can safely turn their attention away from the driving tasks, e.g. the driver can text or watch a movie. The vehicle will handle situations that call for an immediate response, like emergency braking. The driver must still be prepared to intervene within some limited time, specified by the manufacturer, when called upon by the vehicle to do so. As an example, the 2018 Audi A8 Luxury Sedan was the first commercial car to claim to be capable of level 3 self-driving. This particular car has a so-called Traffic Jam Pilot. When activated by the human driver, the car takes full control of all aspects of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph). The function works only on highways with a physical barrier separating one stream of traffic from oncoming traffic.
  • Level 4 ("mind off"): As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety, e.g. the driver may safely go to sleep or leave the driver's seat. Self-driving is supported only in limited spatial areas (geofenced) or under special circumstances, like traffic jams. Outside of these areas or circumstances, the vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip, e.g. park the car, if the driver does not retake control.
  • Level 5 ("steering wheel optional"): No human intervention is required at all. An example would be a robotic taxi.
1reddrop wrote that the new update could "decisively bring Tesla into Level 4 territory. If they succeed within the projected timeline, Tesla could become the world's first automaker with a fully autonomous (by SAE standards) fleet on the road in 2019."

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  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.