Speaking during Tesla's first quarter earnings report, Elon Musk, the CEO of the startup Tesla, said that Tesla will start mass production of a "robotaxi" by 2024. According to him, this car will not be equipped with a steering wheel or pedals, but instead will be driven by Tesla Full Self-Driving software, which is being beta-tested at this moment.
Musk said the goal of the robotaxi is to achieve the lowest cost per mile for a taxi-like vehicle, and said Tesla predicts that a ride in its robotaxi will cost less than a subsidized fare on a public bus or subway. "We don't want to rush into an exciting product announcement yet," Musk said, even though rushing into product announcements is Tesla's way of working.
This isn't the first time Musk has announced a Tesla robotaxi. Back in 2019, Musk promised that a fleet of unmanned cabs would launch in 2020. In April 2020, Musk tweeted that while robotaxis will be operational this year, "regulatory approval is a big unknown." Approval may indeed be the company's biggest problem. Without a steering wheel or pedals, the robotaxis will have Level 5 autonomy. Tesla's current autopilot system only has Level 2, since humans still need to monitor the car's behavior and can take over the controls at any time. There are currently no Level 5 cars on U.S. roads.
General Motors is testing a fleet of Chevy Bolts in San Francisco that has no operator but is limited to 30 mph roads and clear weather conditions. General Motors is also petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to launch Cruise Origin in 2023, which will have Level 5 autonomy. Perhaps if Cruise gets permission from NHTSA, it will be crucial for Tesla's robotaxi plans.
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