Tesla is well-known for pushing autonomous technology hard in its all-electric vehicles but, thus far, the company has only been able to manage partial automation. This could change in the coming years, with the news that Tesla is moving full-speed ahead to develop its own Artificial Intelligence (AI) chip. CEO, Elon Musk, claims the company's AI hardware will be the best in the world.
Musk was giving a talk at the NIPS 2017 AI conference when he talked about the custom chip. The effort is reportedly being spearheaded by Tesla's president of hardware, former AMD chip architect Jim Keller. The powerful custom AI chip could finally help Tesla move beyond the limited autopilot features it has offered in its cars over the past few years.
The current Tesla Autopilot system is what is known as Level 2 Autonomy. Which means these cars can accelerate, brake, and steer in certain conditions, but the driver must remain aware and ready to take over from the computer at any given moment.
At Level 3, a car can monitor the environment and make changes, but will still notify the driver when the car gets confused. At Level 4, a vehicle can handle all the driving by itself in certain conditions, and the driver does not need to be involved at all.
Level 5 is the holy grail; a completely autonomous vehicle that can handle all conditions by monitoring and understand the world around it. A person in a Level 5 autonomous vehicle could take a nap and arrive at their destination feeling refreshed; this is what Tesla aims to succeed with their custom AI chip.
When running artificial neural networks and similar AI code, there are a different set of hardware considerations. A traditional CPU can only do so much with brute force processing. Tesla is not the only company looking to design custom chips for AI. Google has its Tenso Processing Units (TPUs) and Huawei has the Neural Processing Unit (NPU) in the new Kirin 970 Arm chip.
The only technology that is at holy grail level is Alphabet's Waymo subsidiary, which grew out of a project at Google. Even that is still far from ready for commercial availability. Musk is suspiciously confident as always and claims it will be two years for Tesla self-driving tech to reach Level 5, and another year after that it will be an order of magnitude better than humans.