Self Driving Cars
Photo showing a Tesla Model 3 driving with Autopilot enabled

Elon Musk ambitiously claims Teslas will form driverless taxi network in 2020

Highly ambitious timeline states robotaxi service will arrive in the US by the middle of next year

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Tesla boss Elon Musk has boldly claimed his company's electric cars will be able to drive themselves and form a driverless taxi network, to be launched in the US by mid-2020.

The dream of Tesla owners using their cars as autonomous taxis while they work, sleep or go away on vacation was first mentioned by Musk back in 2016, but since then the company has been swamped by production delays for its cheapest vehicle, the Model 3.

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Now, Musk is once again focused on delivering his lofty ambition of turning Tesla cars already on the roads into a driverless taxi service called Tesla Network, which can be hailed via the Tesla smartphone app - similar to how Uber and Lyft work today, but without the human driver. Musk claims Tesla owners could earn up to $30,000 a year by letting their car perform as a taxi.

Speaking at an invitation-only event for investors on Monday, Musk unveiled a new autonomous driving microchip which is now being fitted to new Teslas as they move along the production line. Built by Samsung in Texas, Musk said the processor is "the best chip in the world...objectively."

Tesla also this week published a new video demonstrating the self-driving abilities of its Model 3 car, below:

The Tesla boss claimed that, by the middle of 2020, the cars' autonomous system will be smart enough to operate on public roads without the driver needing to pay attention. Currently, drivers must continue to grip the steering wheel firmly when they activate Autopilot, which takes control of the accelerator, brakes and steering on most, but not all, roads.

Although not naming Tesla or Musk directly, the PAVE (Partners for Automated Vehicle Education) Campaign tweeted after the April 22 presentation: "Most vehicles available for sale today offer driver assistance features; in all vehicles available for sale today, even those with the most advanced of these aids, the driver must always monitor and be prepared to control the vehicle.

"It is damaging to public discussion about advanced vehicle technologies - and potentially unsafe - to refer to vehicles now available for sale to the public using inaccurate terms."

Echoing plans made by Waymo, owned by Google parent Alphabet, Musk plans for Tesla to offer a driverless taxi service in some parts of the US sometime in 2020. But, unlike the Waymo vehicles which are purposely modified for the job and (for now) include a human safety driver by hand the wheel - and are only available to beta testers in Phoenix, Arizona - the Tesla cars will, he hopes, be truly driverless.

This would give them Level 5 classification, which has not yet been achieved by any autonomous vehicle manufacturer, and remains theoretical for now. Level 5 refers to vehicles would can drive themselves on any roads and in any conditions, regardless of weather, road works, diversions, lane markings, pedestrians and the actions of other vehicles.

Of course, Musk and Tesla will need to wait for such vehicles to be granted permission to operate in public roads by the authorities. Insurance and liability issues will also need to be worked out ahead of time. Musk boldly claimed: "We will have more than one million robotaxis on the road...A year from now, we'll have one million cars with full self-driving, software...everything."

Musk wasn't clear if these vehicles would actually be legally allowed to use their self-driving capabilities by this time next year.

Tesla is well known for missing its own deadlines, and Musk once said one of his cars would be able to drive itself across the US coast-to-coast by the end of 2018. This did not happen, and has not yet been attempted by Tesla.

As a result, it is hard to determine whether Musk's latest claims will be achieved, and in the aggressive timeline he has suggested.

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