Elon Musk promises fleet of 1 million Tesla ‘robotaxis’ in 2020

Even if the company call pull it off, are Americans ready to trust fully autonomous cars?

  • Tesla held an investor event on April 22, during which CEO Elon Musk promised the company will soon roll out a robotaxi network to rival companies like Uber and Lyft.
  • Some experts say Tesla is overselling its ability to provide truly autonomous vehicles.
  • About 71 percent of Americans are still fearful of self-driving cars, up 8 percentage points from 2017.

At an investor event on April 22, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a characteristically bold promise: By 2020, the company will have a fleet of 1 million fully autonomous cars as part of a "robotaxi" network.

"I feel very confident predicting that there will be autonomous robotaxis from Tesla next year — not in all jurisdictions because we won't have regulatory approval everywhere," Musk said. "From our standpoint, if you fast forward a year, maybe a year and three months, but next year for sure, we'll have over a million robotaxis on the road."

Tesla owners will be able to earn money by making their cars available on a ride-hailing app similar to Uber, Musk said. The company would take a cut of the revenue – maybe 25 or 30 percent – and would also provide cars itself in areas where not enough people own Teslas.

The timeline is ambitious and potentially unrealistic, considering none of Tesla's cars are currently fully autonomous. Of course, much of the public thinks such fully self-driving are available right now. One reason? Tesla has long offered a "full self-driving capability" feature that's not yet a full self-driving feature; it can perform minor driving tasks, like guiding the car to an on-ramp, on its own, but can't yet provide Tesla owners a fully hands-off autonomous experience.

Tesla removed this feature from its website in October 2018, saying it was causing too much confusion. In February, Tesla reinstated the option, and last week Musk said that all "Tesla cars being produced right now have everything necessary for full self-driving," adding that the cars would receive this capability through future software updates, which cars can receive without any needing any updates to the existing hardware. (That's provided the cars have Hardware 3 installed; Tesla said it plans to install the new hardware for free in cars owned by customers who had purchased the full self-driving feature.)

Still, some experts say it's an unrealistic promise that's perpetuating consumer confusion.

"Claiming its vehicles will soon be 'feature complete' for full self-driving is one more step in the unconscionable practices that Tesla is already engaged in with Autopilot — overselling its capabilities and reliability when marketing its vehicles and then blaming the driver for not reading the manual and paying constant attention when the technology inevitably fails," Dean Pomerleau, of Carnegie Mellon University, who once rode in a minivan that steered itself across the U.S., told CNN.

Are Americans ready to ride in self-driving cars?

Even if Tesla sticks to its ambitious timeline, it's unclear how many Americans will be willing to ride in autonomous cars. According to the latest American Automobile Association survey, 71 percent of Americans fear autonomous vehicles, which is about the same number as last year, and up eight percentage points from 2017.

Why is public fear increasing even though self-driving technology is ostensibly improving? It might be due in part to widely covered accidents involving autonomous cars in the past several years, suggested Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering.

"It's possible that the sustained level of fear is rooted in a heightened focus, whether good or bad, on incidents involving these types of vehicles," Brannon said in a statement. "Also it could simply be due to a fear of the unknown."

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Extraordinary machines – with neuroscientist Susan Hockfield

Convergence 2.0: Engineers are using the "natural genius" of biological systems to produce extraordinary machines—self-assembling batteries, cancer-detecting nanoparticles, super-efficient water filters made from proteins found in blood cells. Neuroscientist and MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield and host Jason Gots discuss what all this could mean for our future.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "One of my tools as president was never to talk about change. People hate change. But at MIT no one could deny you the opportunity to do an experiment."
  • "If we can create these spaces for convening around our most important problems, We can make progress much faster than we can by insisting that people do the work on their own. And that's the power of the university at its best."
Keep reading Show less

Why the south of Westeros is the north of Ireland

As Game of Thrones ends, a revealing resolution to its perplexing geography.

Image: YouTube / Doosh
Strange Maps
  • The fantasy world of Game of Thrones was inspired by real places and events.
  • But the map of Westeros is a good example of the perplexing relation between fantasy and reality.
  • Like Britain, it has a Wall in the North, but the map only really clicks into place if you add Ireland.
Keep reading Show less

Depression is different for everyone. Here’s what it’s like for me.

Depression is quicksand, says comedian Pete Holmes. Try this method to help you cope and live with depression.

Videos
  • Everyone's experience with depression is different, but for comedian Pete Holmes the key to living with depression has been to observe his own thoughts in an impartial way.
  • Holmes' method, taught to him by psychologist and spiritual leader Ram Dass, is to connect to his base consciousness and think about himself and his emotions in the third person.
  • You can't push depression away, but you can shift your mindset to help better cope with depression, anxiety, and negative emotions. If you feel depressed, you can connect with a crisis counselor anytime in the US.
Keep reading Show less