Elon Musk makes case for eschewing LIDAR as Tesla reports latest results

Elon Musk has said that LIDAR is a ‘crutch’ and affirmed that Tesla will not be planning to use the system going forward.

LIDAR, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging’, helps measure distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light, and measuring the reflected pulses. While other companies are using the technology – it is a part of the alleged claims in the current Uber versus Waymo court case, for instance – Tesla will continue to only use cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to create autonomous vehicles.

Musk was responding to an analyst question on an earnings call, asking whether competitors are missing anything in their software stack that enabled Tesla to not use LIDAR, and whether regulation would come into place regarding use of the technology.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the road system is geared towards passive optical [image recognition],” said Musk, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. “We have to solve passive optical image recognition extremely well in order to be able to drive in any given environment and the changing environment.

“At the point at which you have solved it extremely well, what is the point in having optical – meaning LIDAR – which cannot read signs,” he added. “In my view, it is a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very difficult to get out of.”

Regarding what the competition are doing, Musk added: “I find it quite puzzling that companies would choose to do an active proton system in the wrong wavelength. They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary… and I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

The company issued its fourth quarter and full year update for 2017, with revenue of $ 11.8 billion (£8.5bn) for 2017, up 55% year over year from organic growth. Tesla added that it expected 2018 revenue growth to ‘significantly exceed’ 2017 growth.

The focus for a lot of the message was on the long-awaited Model 3 – in more ways than one. Tesla delivered 1,542 Model 3 vehicles in the final quarter of 2017, with a Business Insider article saying that ‘production is on track, but it’s still a complete mess.’

“The launch of Model 3 [the most recent model] is what Tesla had been building towards from day one,” the company said. “We incorporated all the learnings from the development and production of Roadster, Model S, and Model X to create the world’s first mass market electric vehicle that is priced on par with its gasoline-powered equivalents – even without incentives.

“Now we are ramping up production significantly, and as we look ahead in 2018, we are on the cusp of a step change in the world’s transition to sustainability.”

Not everyone believes in the work Tesla is doing, however. A recent study from Navigant Research assessed the better part of 20 companies developing automated driving systems and put Tesla at the bottom of the pile.

You can read the full Tesla financial report here.

Postscript: While the vast majority of the focus was on Tesla, analysts could not resist comment on Musk’s successful SpaceX launch earlier this week. One told Musk the launch was ‘probably the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’

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Can Elon Musk’s Boring Company spark a Hyperloop revolution?

Analysis: Can Elon Musk’s Boring Company spark Hyperloop revolution

If you can’t go around it, go under it. That is the basic premise of the Tesla founder’s Boring Company and its plans for an autonomous high-speed electric rail tunnel system, known as Loop, to tackle Los Angeles’ traffic woes.

After Elon Musk got stuck in traffic in December 2016, he tweeted saying it was “driving him nuts” and he was going to “build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging”. This is the watershed moment that lead to the birth of the Boring Company.

Largely financed by Musk himself (amongst criticism that he’s having to sell hats to fund the project), The Boring Company hopes to one day enable travel between New York and Washington DC in under 30 minutes. This terminus is a long way off though, and numerous technological and political obstacles will have to be overcome if the firm’s ambitious are to reach their end. The latter category shouldn’t be underestimated.

Their latest challenge is to obtain planning permission from Culver City. A staff report released by the Culver City manager’s office earlier this week revealed details of the firm’s plans.

“The Boring Company, has proposed a privately funded human transportation tunnel that would run underneath the Westside of Los Angeles. The proposed route is from Hawthorne to West LA,” the report reads. Permission would provide a crucial win for the planned six and a half mile proof-of-process tunnel.

This ‘human transportation tunnel’ would provide the infrastructure for Musk’s innovative Loop technology. This is not to be confused with Hyperloop, which involves human-bearing pods travelling through a vacuum, but is a significant stride in this direction.

Loop Skate concept

Concept drawing of a Loop skate

Read more: Tesla Powerpack begins work on powering South Australia

The difference between Loop and Hyperloop

It was back in 2013 that Musk first latched on to the potential of Hyperloop. His whitepaper created great excitement in the industry, and after being assured of its feasibility by his advisors, President Obama stated pithily, “Let me know how I can help you”. However, the bridging technology to this is Loop.

Loop is a high-speed underground public transportation system that will carry passengers on autonomous electric skates travelling at 125-150 miles per hour. The aim is for skates (air casters) to be able to ferry up to 16 passengers or a single passenger vehicle.

Electric induction motors, like the one used in the Tesla Model S but rolled flat, can accelerate the skates to high subsonic velocity. Each skate would only need a boost roughly every 70 miles, keeping costs down.

Hyperloop is similar in that passengers would be transported through a tube in an autonomous, electricity-powered, pressurized capsule. The difference is that the use of a vacuum inside the tube eliminates air friction, allowing speeds of over 600 miles per hour.

While this concept sounds distinctly sci-fi, the idea first surfaced in 1909 when rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard proposed a vacuum train. Given the time required to reach these speeds and slow down again, Loop is much more suited to short distance travel.

Read more: Byton unveils reimagined smart car at CES 2018

The Boring Company’s grand vision

The Culver City permit application is not the Boring Company’s first. In October 2017, they submitted plans to the City of Los Angeles for those sections of the tunnel that run beneath their jurisdiction. The city has yet to grant approval however, and there is some concern amongst councillors regarding the implications of allowing the private company to compete against existing transport providers.

There are encouraging signs when it comes to overcoming planning issues, though. The City of Hawthorne approved a subsurface easement agreement in August 2017 for The Boring Company to build a two mile long test tunnel, which is now under construction.

The Boring Company is also working with officials on a DC to Baltimore route (which could then be extended to New York). In a promising first step, the State of Maryland has granted permission for 10 miles of tunnels. Meanwhile, in Chicago, The Boring Company is competing to build a high-speed Loop connecting Chicago O’Hare Airport to downtown.

All hype and no loop?

Tunnels are traditionally extremely expensive to dig, sometimes costing as much as $ 1 billion per mile. For a Loop tunnel network to be viable, tunnelling costs would need to be 10 times cheaper.

The boring company has several ways of doing this. By placing vehicles on stabilised electric skates, the tunnel diameter can be reduced to under 14 feet. Halving the diameter would reduce tunnelling costs by three to four times.

Secondly, tunnel boring machines are incredibly slow. In fact, they’re 14 times slower than a snail, according to The Boring Company. They hope to produce machines that can go for longer, while reinforcing the tunnel at the same time – all with less human supervision. There is a pressing need to innovate technology that has been stagnant for decades.

Each station would consist of a bank of elevators. These can be as small as a parking space, so, unlike a subway, an unlimited number of stations can be built along the tunnel route.

The Boring Company's boring machine

The Boring Company’s boring machine (Credit: The Boring Company)

Read more: Greenlots joins PG&E program to roll out EV chargers in California

The route to hyperloop?

Despite efforts in the past by Rand Corporation and ET3, and more recently, Tesla, SpaceX and Virgin Hyperloop One, a commercially viable Hyperloop remains a long way off. The challenge of drawing a hard or near hard vacuum in a tube, and then using electromagnetic suspension (maglev) to suspend transportation pods, is a mammoth technical undertaking.

“The problem with this approach is that it is incredibly hard to maintain a near vacuum in a room, let alone 700 miles (round trip) of large tubes with dozens of station gateways and thousands of pods entering and exiting every day,” says Musk in his whitepaper. “All it takes is one leaky seal or a small crack somewhere in the hundreds of miles of tube and the whole system stops working.”

When using a low-pressure system instead, a nose-mounted electric compressor fan, helps to overcome the Kantrowitz Limit and generates a cushion of air underneath the pod as it travels through the tube, providing a much more effective solution than wheels at high speeds.

Musk and his detractors are equally aware that there is still a great deal of design and proof of concept work to be done to bring Hyperloop from the drawing board to solid ground. This includes, more detail on the control mechanism for Hyperloop capsules, such as an attitude thruster or control moment gyros; detailed station designs with loading and unloading of passengers, and sub-scale testing to demonstrate the physics of Hyperloop. The technology’s advocates will also need to prove the benefits of Hyperloop over more conventional magnetic levitation system.

Visionaries and innovators have always been mocked by those who doubt the viability or realism behind their plans. Yet, regardless of whether Musk’s hyperloop dream finds form, while the doubters idly scoff, he is busy doing. And that’s just the kind of self-belief needed to introduce the first new mode of transport since the airplane.

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“AI most likely cause of WW3” says Elon Musk

elon-musk-tesla-AI

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has made another apprehensive comment on the future of artificial intelligence development, saying the country with “[artificial intelligence] superiority most likely cause of WW3” on Twitter.

Musk, the most prominent critic of AI development, was responding to a comment by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said the nation that leads in AI will be “leader of the world.”

The comment is just the latest from Musk, who has taken to Twitter previously to call on governments to regulate AI and to say AI is vastly more risky than the situation in North Korea. In past comments, Musk has likened AI development to “summoning the demon” and called it an existential threat.

His heavy criticism of the development has led him into arguments with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, an avid AI enthusiast. Several AI experts have also denounced Musk’s comments.

AI a “national concern”

Almost all the leaders on the global stage have started to invest in research and development of AI for national means, in some way. The Chinese government recently said it wants to be a leader in AI by 2030 and will invest heavily in companies working on the technology.

See Also: In an AI-powered world, what are potential jobs of the future?

Musk recently added his name to alongside 100 others asking for the United Nations to actively regulate autonomous weapons development, before it is deployed on the battlefield.

Even with all the criticism, Musk has founded an AI research firm, called OpenAI. The startup recently showed its technical prowess in the online strategy game DoTA 2. Musk has also founded Neuralink, which is reportedly developing brain-computer interfaces.

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Elon Musk’s OpenAI bot dominates DoTA 2 professionals

dota-2-bot

Elon Musk’s OpenAI previewed the power of its own artificial intelligence at Valve’s yearly DoTA 2 tournament. The AI agent dominated several DoTA 2 professionals in 1 vs 1, showing the early capabilities of AI inside the MOBA.

For those that don’t follow DoTA 2, it is multiplayer online battle arena, primarily played in a 5 vs 5 format. The aim for each team is to destroy towers to reach the opposing team’s base.

See Also: Chinese government wants country to be AI leader by 2030

OpenAI spent two weeks training the bot inside the game, constantly running through simulations against itself. It amassed “lifetimes” of gameplay, learning intricate tactics to beat its opponent. The bot learned how to creep block, zone, and bait, considered key skills for DoTA 2 players, which surprised most of the professionals.

At the International, DoTA 2 pro Danylo “Dendi” Ishutin was defeated twice by the bot.

It should be noted that the 1 vs 1 was extremely limited compared to a normal game of DoTA 2. Bottle, runes, neutrals, raindrops, shrines, and soul rings were not allowed, limiting the scope of the game.

That said, OpenAI is looking to have a full bot team for the International next year, which may compete with some of the teams that make it to the tournament.

It is not the first AI agent to show proficiency in video games. DeepMind, owned by Google, has perfected Atari Breakout, beat the number one player in Go, and is working on an agent to compete in Blizzard’s Starcraft 2.

Musk, the founder of OpenAI, has said that AI is an existential threat to humanity, and last week on Twitter he called it “vastly more risky than North Korea”. He asked governments to actively regulate the sector, to the annoyance of some AI experts and Mark Zuckerberg.

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Elon Musk says Mark Zuckerberg’s AI understanding is “limited”

Happy loving family. Father and his daughter child girl playing outdoors. Daddy and his child girl in an Superhero's costumes. Concept of Father's day.

It is not often the heads of two major companies blast each other in public, so Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s artificial intelligence warnings “pretty irresponsible” on a Facebook Live broadcast was seen as a big deal.

Musk intensified the drama in response to a tweet, which said Zuckerberg’s “understanding of the subject is limited.” This is despite Facebook working heavily on AI and integrating narrow AI into some of its programs, and Zuckerberg building a home automation system.

“I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios — I just, I don’t understand it,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible. Because in the next five to ten years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives.”

AI will lead to faster cures for diseases, better match of drugs to the patient, self-driving cars, said Zuckerberg. He also said all technology could be used for good or bad, although Elon Musk has said previously that AI is different to other technologies, as it is a “fundamental existential risk to humanity,” whereas planes, trucks, and computers are not.

See Also: Forget Elon Musk’s ban — let’s put our energy into building safe AI

In the most recent interview on the subject, Musk called for proactive regulation for AI, rather than reactive, as is the norm. He called for a collective halt of general purpose AI development, at least until researchers and governments can set the rules and limitations.

Musk is quite alone in this battle against AI, with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon all forging ahead with their own research and development. There is also the argument that if not developed in the U.S., China will certainly take the lead in AI development.

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