Tesla’s decision to develop its Full Self-Driving (FSD) computer chip in-house has put it four years ahead of the competition, according to ARK Invest analyst James Wang.
Wang laid out the case for the all-electric car maker’s custom automotive-grade computer against the next-best options in the market, all Nvidia products, in an article on ARK Invest’s website. His stated goal in the piece was to clarify Tesla’s position and achievement with full self-driving in simple terms as well as explain why an off-the-shelf chip would not have accomplished the same feat.
Admittedly, Tesla’s Autonomy Day livestream debuting the arrival of its Full Self-Driving computer was chock full of very technical details that many outside the computer science world indicated were difficult to follow. Thus, Wang’s FSD simplification is helpful for gaining insight into Tesla’s autonomous driving progress in terms of the bigger industry picture.
In summary, by focusing only on what its particular needs were for its particular software demands, Tesla was was able to improve its chip’s performance efficiency to a level that has allowed it to “leapfrog” over competitors. Wang predicts that by 2021, Tesla will be ready to release its next generation FSD computer while its closest competitor in terms of optimal peak utilization is just coming to market.
Nvidia is a prominent and highly successful leader in computer chip design, and Tesla already uses its products for Hardware 2.5, the computer currently running the electric car maker’s Autopilot features. That said, the industry giant has three self-driving-focused chips in its lineup: Xavier (in production), Pegasus (readying for production) and Orin (still pending an official announcement).
Pegasus is a Level 5 self-driving computer, as is Tesla’s FSD; however, it has twice as many chips as FSD, consumes seven times more power than FSD, and is too big and expensive for the Model 3. Since Nvidia designs chips for a wide range of hardware manufacturers, much like the Windows and Android operating systems are designed to be flexible enough for different computer and smartphone hardware suites, their functionality cannot be overly streamlined for one system over another. In contrast, Tesla (like Apple hardware/software) can focus all of its autonomy efforts on its specific hardware and software needs, thus achieving a greater output than Nvidia’s product.
In a follow up to Tesla’s Autonomy Day presentation wherein FSD was compared to Nvidia’s Xavier computer, a chip designed for semi-autonomous driving only, the chip manufacturer published a company blog piece drawing attention to Pegasus’ capabilities as a better measure for analysis. As pointed out in Wang’s analysis, the FSD and Pegasus still do not achieve the same metrics, leaving Tesla well positioned amongst its self-driving computer peers. Despite the issue, though, Nvidia’s conclusion was a positive response to the car maker’s achievement: Tesla has raised the bar on self-driving and other car manufacturers need to get on board before falling too far behind.
During the Autonomy Day presentation, Tesla CEO Elon Musk crowned FSD as “objectively best in the world”, and James Wang’s analysis is yet another outline of why that is arguably the case. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Computer (formerly known as Hardware 3) is currently being installed in all new production vehicles, and owners who purchased Full Self-Driving for a car produced in 2016 or later will receive a free upgrade to the FSD computer in the near future. Musk has further predicted that Tesla’s full self-driving software will be complete by the end of this year and fully operational by the second quarter of next year.
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