Jan 27 (Reuters) - Tesla's most important products
this year and next will not be cars, Chief Executive Elon Musk
said on Wednesday, but software that drives them autonomously
and a humanoid robot.
The audacious promises by the best-known billionaire in the
electric car industry face major challenges, from technology to
regulation. Tesla and other auto technology companies have
missed their targets to deploy self-driving cars for years.
"I love the fact that they're pushing the envelope, but I
think they are too aggressive," said Roth Capital Partners
analyst Craig Irwin.
Musk has built a career on defying skeptics with businesses
in electric cars and rockets. Some Tesla drivers buy $12,000
self-driving packages in the expectation that full autonomy is
around the corner, and 60,000 Tesla drivers are testing the
latest self-driving software, a scale that rivals can only dream
"I would be shocked if we do not achieve full self-driving
safer than human this year. I would be shocked," Musk said,
predicting full self-driving would become "the most important
source of profitability for Tesla."
"It's nutty good from a financial standpoint," he said,
noting that robotaxis would boost a vehicle's utility five times
as owners can send their cars out to work when not needed.
Musk said human-like robots and self-driving cars are more
important than Cybertruck or $25,000 electric cars. Tesla shares
fell 10% to the lowest level in over three months on Thursday
after the most valuable automaker delayed releasing new vehicles
like Cybertruck until next year because of supply chain
problems. Musk said Tesla is not currently developing $25,000
Tesla uses cameras and artificial intelligence, avoiding
other technologies such as radar and lidar sensors that rivals
say are key to achieving full autonomy. That approach has drawn
"You have to be able to not only just see a person, like
right in front of you, you have to do so, with 99.999999999%
reliability. Even running over someone once is not an acceptable
answer," Austin Russell, CEO of lidar maker Luminar, told
Philip Koopman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor
working on autonomous vehicle safety, said a big problem is that
at scale, unusual cases constantly can crop up.
"Without a human driver to handle safety for novel
situations the machine learning hasn't been taught already, it's
very difficult to ensure safety in a completely automated
vehicle," he said.
Even if the technology works, Tesla would come under more
rigorous scrutiny from regulators before deploying fleets of
free-roaming robotaxis. U.S. auto safety regulators opened a
safety probe into Tesla's advanced driver assistant system after
crashes involving the vehicles and parked emergency vehicles.
Federal vehicle safety regulators have issued guidelines to
states, but not comprehensive standards governing self-driving
Some state laws require approval for a fully autonomous
vehicle, Koopman said.
Just a year ago, Musk said during an earnings call he was
"highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with
reliability in excess of human this year."
Tesla's autopilot engineer at the time, CJ Moore, last year
told the California regulator that Musk's tweet on self-driving
technology "does not match engineering reality."
Musk also said engineers were working to launch a humanoid
robot next year, called Optimus, that could eventually address
global labor shortages, and in the short term might be able to
carry items around a factory.
"For performing dangerous and repetitive tasks, using a
humanoid robot is exactly the wrong approach," said Raj
Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at
Carnegie Mellon University.
Robots may be more important than cars, Musk said. "This, I
think, has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle
business over time."
(Editing by Peter Henderson, Gerry Doyle and Richard Chang)