Need A Ride? Call A Robo-Tesla

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk hinted Tuesday the carmaker may launch its own network of shared autonomous cars for users to borrow on demand, but he cautioned the company is not ready to make a formal announcement.
During Tesla's Third Quarter 2015 Financial Results Conference call Tuesday, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas asked Musk whether Tesla, which has already pioneered some features of autonomous driving with its Autopilot software, would sell cars to rideshare companies or if it could "cut out the middle man" and deploy its own fleet:
"Assuming Tesla establishes itself as a leader in autonomous transport, do you see a business case for selling autonomous vehicles to ridesharing firms or can Tesla cut out the middle man and offer on-demand electric mobility services directly from the company's own platform?"
Musk paused, laughed, paused again and said, “I think we’d have to say no comment.”
Jonas: "I mean, you know, Elon, it's kind of unusual for you to punt on strategic questions of a long-term nature. Is it a dumb question?"
Musk: [laughs].
Jonas: "Or a funny question?"
Musk: "I think it's quite a smart question actually, but still no comment."
Jonas: "Okay, I won't antagonize. Let's move on. It's just odd because normally you are—I've never heard you punt like that, that's all."
Musk: "Uh, you know—"
Jonas: "Is it because of a competitive sensitivity or is it because the concept itself is just too in flux?"
Musk: "I think there's a right time to make announcements, and this is not that time. Nor is our strategy fully baked here, so for us to state what it would be—it's not fully baked, so there's no— We'd prefer to announce something when we think we've got the full story understood."
Jonas: "Saying it's not fully baked implies there's something in the oven."
Musk: [laughs] "We've got to move on."
The Rocky Mountain Institute has predicted fully autonomous vehicles will be operating on highways and in cities in three years.
“Our research indicates that the first thing that’s going to roll out… will be level-three freight, some kind of trucks going across our highways,” said Jonathan Walker of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “In the cities it’s going to be Robo-Taxis, and it’s going to be sooner than we think. In three years we’re going to see some kind of automated taxi service, probably in the Bay Area, maybe in Austin.”
In the next phase of deployment, Walker predicted, "tech leaders who specialize in consumer experience" would offer a way to drive "high-end people to and from their jobs in luxurious autonomous vehicles."
Walker expects a fully automated transportation system to roll out, among the legacy vehicles still piloted by people, by 2030.
Musk's timeline for Tesla's autonomous vehicle business fits with Walker's predictions:
"I think that all cars will go fully autonomous in long term. I think it would be quite unusual to see cars that don’t have full autonomy in new car production in the 15- to 20-year time frame. And for Tesla it will be a lot sooner than that," he said Tuesday.
" Any cars that are being made that don’t have full autonomy will have negative value. It’ll be like owning a horse. You’re really owning it for sentimental reasons."
Tesla has positioned itself as a potential leader in the autonomous vehicle marketplace with a software release this quarter that enabled Autopilot on 40,000 Model S and Model X vehicles, "giving these cars the ability to steer within a lane, change lanes with a tap of a turn signal and parallel park autonomously."
Those Autopilot-equipped Teslas are gathering more than one million miles of driving data per day, Musk said in a letter to shareholders today, data that the company analyzes and feeds back to the fleet so that it learns and improves performance.
"We’re aware of many accidents that were prevented by autopilot and w’ere not aware of any that are caused by autopilot."

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