Tesla has been working on self-driving technology for years, and the latest Full-Self-Driving (FSD) Beta demonstrations look promising. According to Elon Musk, the FSD Beta will be available in Europe in the Summer of 2022, and a wider rollout is planned for North America by the end of 2022.
Once FSD is solved and reliable enough to operate without human supervision, Tesla will release a ride-hailing service similar to Uber and Lyft, as stated in the Masterplan Part II:
When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination. You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost."
To ensure the high availability of that service, Tesla is already planning to operate their own fleet.
In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.
But it was unclear whether Tesla would use some of its existing Models or build a dedicated RoboTaxi to operate this ride-hailing service.
During the opening party of their brand new factoring in Austin, Texas, Elon Musk talked about the future of Tesla. While for 2022, the goal is to scale the existing models (S, 3, X and Y), for the next year, Tesla plans a wide release of new products, including a dedicated model that is going to be operated as a RoboTaxi.
"There will be a dedicated RoboTaxi...it's going to look quite futuristic." - said Elon Musk at the Cyber Rodeo at Giga Texas.
I highly recommend watching the entire Livestream below:
Elon gave an exciting hint when he used the word "futuristic", especially if you remember how the Cybertruck (Car in the YouTube Thumbnail) was described before it was announced.
The Design of the RoboTaxi
When you imagine building a car for the sole purpose of being a self-driving Taxi, you probably will design it different from what a regular car looks like.
The main requirements for such a car are safety, durability and comfort.
- Since there will be no human supervision, the car should be as safe as possible. Therefore it makes sense to design it with extra safety measures in mind.
- The battery's chemistry will probably be different to either optimize for a long lifetime or/and high density to minimize the need for recharges during the daily operation.
- Maximize the interior for productivity, entertainment and comfort. More screens, easier connectivity for other devices, great sound systems for video calls, bigger and more comfortable seats etc. It will be interesting to see if different versions of the interior design will be dedicated for other use cases.
In my opinion, there is a pretty high chance that Tesla will leverage the "Cyber"-technology that they introduced with the Cybertruck and their ATV for kids. Once the production techniques are solved and ready for scale, it will be the most efficient way to produce incredibly durable bodies for the RoboTaxi. As Tesla described the material used for the Cybertruck:
"Help eliminate dents, damage and long-term corrosion with a smooth monochrome exoskeleton that puts the shell on the outside of the car and provides you and your passengers maximum protection."
It will result in maximum safety, and at some point, it will be the cheapest way to produce RoboTaxis at scale, which is critical to operating a global network of self-driving Taxis. So, imagine the storage facility in the back of the Cybertruck is used for more interior space.
But no matter what the new RoboTaxi model will look like in the end - the important question is: Will it ever be available for sale?
At the moment, I think that Tesla will produce the RoboTaxi and operate it as a part of the Tesla business. RoboTaxis will become a critical component to help the world transition to using sustainable energy because of their high utility and relatively lost cost. Allowing private and business customers to buy the RoboTaxi might result in poor utilization. Once the product is available, Tesla needs to maximize the utilization of RoboTaxis. The only way to ensure that the vehicles are used as frequently as possible is to place them in the market where demand is high and make sure they operate at maximum capabilities. Selling it seems like an unnecessary risk for lower utilization rates, which is not helping with Teslas' mission.