Bloomberg published an article recently which claims that Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s claims about the company’s new computer chips do not match reality.
Recently, Tesla dropped its contract with Nvidia, the manufacturer of the computer chips behind Tesla’s self-driving systems. Tesla has chosen to produce their new autonomous driving system chips in-house, and in doing so has taken shots at Nvidia claiming that Tesla’s new chips are “the best in the world.”
Speaking at an investor day focused on autonomous driving, Musk rhetorically asked the question: “How could it be that Tesla, who has never designed a chip before, would design the best chip in the world?”
He quickly got an answer from former supplier Nvidia Corp., which said comparisons he gave to back up his claims were wrong. Musk also knocked other approaches to building systems that will make human drivers redundant and made claims about the way Tesla is bucking conventional wisdom to tackle one of the most complex engineering problems today. Here is a fact-check of the technology behind driverless cars.
Bloomberg then gives a breakdown of the multiple false or misleading claims made by Tesla and Musk:
Tesla’s computer system is capable of 144 TOPS (trillion operations per second) while Nvidia’s was ticking by at just 21 TOPs, Musk told his audience. Not true, according to Nvidia, whose chips were replaced by Tesla’s own in all of its models recently. First, Nvdia says Musk was comparing an entire autonomous system containing multiple chips to just one chip designed to provide only limited driver assistance. A fair comparison with an equivalent Nvidia computer would have Tesla’s 144 TOPS stacked up against 320 TOPS from a machine based on semiconductors from the graphics chip maker.
Musk also took a shot at Lidar (a term referring to “light detection and ranging,” or a portmanteau of laser and radar) calling it a “fool’s errand’’ and saying anyone using the technology is doomed. Tesla’s system will focus on image recognition. While others in the industry are also using image recognition-based systems, many are talking about “sensor fusion.” They argue that it’s better to use a combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic and Lidar sensors to build a complete computer picture of the world around a vehicle that will enable it to make better decisions. Each type of sensor has strengths and weaknesses. Some only work over short distances, some perform poorly in snow, and some can be thrown off by bright sunlight or don’t work well after dark.
Musk also repeated a claim which has been repeatedly questioned, that Tesla cars are already capable of self-driving but require software updates. Many leading industry experts have said that this claim is false:
Musk made the bold claim that with the new computer, Tesla vehicles are ready to pilot themselves, once the software is fully developed. Again, he took a shot at the process that others are using to develop the software to be as effective at driving as humans. Simulation — using computer-generated images to train systems — is an approach several companies, including Nvidia, are taking. Musk dismissed this, saying it doesn’t capture the “long tail of weird things that happen in the real world.” Musk’s opponents argue that software can be taught to react to dangerous situations far more quickly with simulation because most driving on the road is incident free. By bombarding a computer with tricky scenarios over and over again in a simulated environment, it learns faster without putting anyone at risk. Musk preferred a science-fiction analogy. “If the simulation fully captured the real world, well, I mean, that will be proof that we’re living in a simulation, I think. It doesn’t. I wish,” he said.
Despite Musk’s bombastic claims, many investors were not impressed:
“After Tesla’s boasting about results of its three-year initiative, we saw nothing tangible that would suggest Tesla could have a lead over well-established competitors,” said Roth Capital Partners analyst Craig Irwin. “The company’s misrepresentation of Nvidia chips, which Tesla previously used, undermined Tesla’s message.”
“It will be tough for them to make it on their own — simply put, Tesla is not a semi company so they may need to partner with someone to do it,” according to Lynx Equity Strategies analysts K.C. Rajkumar and Jahanara Nissar. “But then again, Musk has created a car by himself so a chip is certainly possible.”
Read the full article at Bloomberg here.