Elon Musk’s new ‘robo-taxi’ plan for Tesla self-driving cars is game-changing.
This Monday, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX unveiled his new plans for a ride-hailing app that competes with Uber, Lyft, and every other ride-sharing app in a new way.
In summary, if you own a Tesla with full self-driving capability, you will be able to ‘host’ the car for ride-sharing while you’re not using it, kind of like a mix between Uber and Airbnb.
Let’s think about a scenario where you may be using this.
You own a Tesla Model 3, with full-self driving capability. You drive to work, park your car at 9 am, and go about your day. While you’re at your work, your Tesla drives around (driverless, of course), picking up passengers and dropping them to their destination — all without you having to do anything at all.
Why would you want to do this? Money.
Your ‘robo-taxi’ (your self-driving Tesla taxi), will be charging the customers for using them, with 30–35% of the revenue going to to Tesla, and the other straight to your pocket. Elon Musk claims that a ‘single robo-taxi could provide about $30,000 worth of profits a year’. This means your Tesla could effectively pay for itself — in just one year.
Furthermore, Musk predicts that Tesla’s service will cost less than $0.18 a mile, compared to the most popular ride-sharing services today that cost $2–3 a mile.
This plan is incredibly attractive, to ride-sharing customers, Tesla car owners, Tesla itself, and it’s investors.
There is no doubt that Tesla has the engineering expertise to pull off this ambitious plan too — but Elon says he will roll out 1 million robo-taxis by next year. That’s where I think he’s a bit too ambitious, there are several questions that he is yet to address.
There are likely to be cases of passengers vandalising the Tesla cars, or doing anything else they’re not supposed to, there isn’t any supervision. This could potentially be solved by introducing cameras inside the car to monitor the passengers, but this is where it may get sticky with privacy laws, and deter passengers to hail a Tesla robo-taxi.
Secondly, in the case of an accident (which may not be the fault of the Tesla, but a random lunatic on the road), how would this be dealt with? There isn’t a driver to take the lead in this situation and the car is not owned by the passenger — it’s a huge area that needs to be addressed by Musk, to regulators and investors.
One possible solution may be through the use of 5G; the fifth generation of mobile network not only brings blazing-fast speeds, but incredibly low latency, enabling almost instant cloud gaming services such as Google Stadia. 5G’s low latency would be particularly useful for autonomous driving, where Tesla may have ‘remote drivers’ that are at hand to take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency that requires human intervention.
It will be interesting to see which other issues may arise, but one thing we can be sure of is that Tesla, and Elon Musk have again proven that they are defining innovation for the coming decade, and advancing technology in a way never seen before, and most importantly making the point for why there are now lesser and lesser reasons to purchase a Tesla. A sleekly designed car ahead of it’s time, that would effectively drive itself — and pay for itself.