Several comments made by CEO Elon Musk since the launch of its Autopilot 2.0 hardware suite in all Tesla vehicles made since October 2016 indicate that the company might have to update its onboard computer in order to achieve the fully self-driving capability that it has been promising to customers.

Now it looks like Tesla might have to also offer computer retrofits for Autopilot 2.5 cars.

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Last fall, Tesla introduced a new Autopilot hardware suite, dubbed “2.5”, in all its vehicles to enable more power and redundancy for its future self-driving capability.

It is built on the Autopilot 2.0 suite released a year earlier which at that time, Tesla claimed would eventually enable “fully self-driving capability” with future software updates. We got a look at that computer after a teardown last year.

But the automaker also said that they might need to upgrade the Autopilot computer inside those vehicles in order to get more computing power.

The new “Autopilot 2.5” brought the first update to that computer with a new secondary GPU for more computing power and redundancy. We took a close look at the computer latest Autopilot (2.5) computer in Model 3, Model S, and Model X vehicles earlier this year.

Now Musk said during Tesla’s Q1 conference call last week that even this computer, which is the one being installed in vehicles currently in production, might also need to be replaced to achieve fully self-driving capability:

In order for that to be in place, we have to obviously sell full autonomy and we’re making really good progress on that front. I believe that the vehicles that we are currently producing are capable of full autonomy with the only thing that maybe is probably needed is a computer upgrade to have more processing power for the vision neural net. But that’s a plug-in replacement, a thing that can be done quite easily.

Tesla indeed made the onboard Autopilot computer easily swappable if they need to upgrade, but even if the task to replace it is somewhat easy, it can still add up to quite a significant retrofit program for the automaker.

We are already talking about over 120,000 vehicles with Autopilot 2.0 and 2.5 hardware suite on the road today and at the current production rate, Tesla can be adding as many as 50,000 new cars per quarter at this point.

But it’s actually only a fraction of the number of vehicles with full autonomy that Musk sees Tesla deploying.

The CEO added during the call:

I think we’re really well-positioned and are building the right foundation for having millions and ultimately tens of millions of shared autonomous electric vehicles.

He now expects Tesla to be able to start deploying its fully self-driving software by the end of next year.

Electrek’s Take

I completely understand that computer power is something that is improving at an incredible pace and therefore, it makes sense for Tesla to frequently upgrade its onboard computers to keep up with the trend, but I feel like this might turn into quite a heavy retrofit program.

Tesla promised fully self-driving to all cars since October 2016 and based on Musk’s recent comments, it looks like all those cars might need a computer upgrade, which he already said the company will provide for free.

Let’s say that Tesla doesn’t start producing new cars with a stock computer capable of fully self-driving until the end of the year, it’s going to be at least 200,000 vehicles in need of new computers.

In terms of cost, it will easily be in the hundreds of millions and that’s without accounting for the workload on the service centers, which will have to perform the retrofit.

Maybe I am being overdramatic here, but I think this could be a big issue in the making.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

Featured Image by Kyle Day – Look inside Tesla’s onboard Nvidia supercomputer for self-driving

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