Tesla Readies ‘Onramp to Offramp’ for Autopilot & Promises Profit

The next version of Tesla’s Autopilot system will be able to handle driving from “onramp to offramp,” including automatically attempting lane changes, the company said as it announced higher revenue and a record loss for the second quarter of 2018.

The upcoming version of the semi-autonomous technology, called Autopilot Version 9, will also be able to understand which lane it’s in, automatically guide the car along a route and then safely hand off control to the driver, said Stuart Bowers, vice president of engineering, on a financial conference call.

The upcoming system, apparently designed to automate driving as much as possible on controlled-access highways, could be a significant advancement over the current Autopilot. Tesla also promised a powerful onboard AI processor, due in cars next year, to crunch incoming sensor data and run the neural network behind features like Autopilot.

CEO Elon Musk put some of Tesla’s technology executives on the call before taking questions about the company’s results for the three months that ended June 30. Those results included sharply higher total revenue, rising to $4 billion from about $3.4 billion in the first quarter, but a net loss of nearly $743 million.

The net loss attributable to common stockholders, the figure that might spook owners of Tesla shares, was over $717 million, up from about $710 million in the first quarter. But in after-hours trading on Wednesday evening, the company’s shares were up more than 9%.

Now that Tesla has slashed costs and worked out many of the challenges that led to “production hell” on assembly lines for the Model 3 sedan, it will be able to make more money on each vehicle, Musk said. As a result, he said he was “highly confident” that the company would turn a profit in the third and fourth quarters of this year, barring unexpected events such as a major earthquake or a sudden recession.

Since it achieved the long-sought production rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week in late June, Tesla is going above that rate and should reach 6,000 by the end of August, Musk said. The Model 3, priced from around $35,000, is critical to the 15-year-old car company’s quest to become a mass-market force rather than just a luxury brand.

Tesla’s computing hardware team has examples of its home-grown processor up and running, said Pete Bannon, director of silicon engineering for the company. The chip will be a pin-compatible “drop-in replacement” for the current silicon at the heart of Models S, X and 3, and it can support the cars’ current internal networks at full speed with processing cycles to spare, he said.

The new hardware is faster than any vehicle processor available now, including ARM embedded systems and GPUs like the ones from Nvidia that Tesla uses now, Bannon said. It will allow a car’s cameras to run at full resolution and will cost the same as the current hardware, Musk said.

In addition to improving Autopilot, Tesla is developing more advanced safety systems that are only possible with high-powered perception systems that can sense what’s going on around a vehicle, executives said.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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