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Tesla to World: Elon Musk, Master of surprise

Tesla, a master of marketing? (Photo: Tesla)

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Stephan Giesler
Stephan Giesler

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Hello, automated driving community! Tesla lets us see Planet Earth from a different angle, Waymo and Uber bury the hatchet and two industry heavyweights team up: We bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

He did it again. Last Tuesday, many of us rubbed our eyes in disbelief as images of a cherry-red Tesla Roadster weightlessly hovering in space hit our screens. In the background: the globe. What “on Earth” had happened?

Elon Musk’s space-exploration company SpaceX had launched its “Falcon Heavy” rocket, loaded with a Roadster, to show that the firm could transport cargo for future clients – and (eventually) not just carry astronauts, but also people like you and me to colonize Mars. “A Red Car for the Red Planet,” Musk wrote as he took to Facebook to announce what many deemed another brilliant marketing scoop.

Tesla has some unresolved issues – point taken. Production of its Model 3 is slow. Its Gigafactory is not up to speed. And the company has been under fire for over-promising Autopilot to dewy-eyed drivers, severely denting the tech firm’s image. Moreover, they came last in a recent survey regarding automated driving readiness.

But on the other hand: If you’ve ever taken a spin in a Model S, you will know that it’s one fine car – and (if delivered) few to no complaints about their cars have made the headlines. Musk has managed to create a true car lovebrand in a young and tech-inclined community. Jaw-dropping missions like the Falcon Heavy cruise (and his other projects Hyperloop, Solar City and OpenAI) prove that the man is not only a visionary but also someone who gets a lot of HP on the road.

No matter if he’s ultimately going to be economically successful – he puts visions within reach. This is reflected in the trust people put into Tesla shares, which, despite of all the mentioned issues, stubbornly refuse to plunge.

Nice trial, Uber!

It could’ve become a back-breaking legal dispute for Uber. Instead, the ride-hailing firm got away with a black eye. On Friday, the Waymo vs. Uber trial ended with a million-dollar settlement – after just two days.

According to Waymo, Uber had stolen thousands of software blueprints – and ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and ex-Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski were the suspected masterminds in the theft. Uber’s motive: Beating their rival in the race for AD – by becoming a robo-ride giant itself. To cover up the plot, the two supposedly used Levandowski’s startup Ottomotto to smuggle the files to Uber. So how come the trial ended in a settlement – and not in a severe sentence?

First off, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had one goal: ending the nightmare lawsuit asap. After a year of scandals, he knew that losing this battle would lead to Uber losing the war. Damage payments could have been in the billions. And Uber could’ve lost its license to test self-drive tech, stripping them of a key competitive advantage. The future of ride hailing would’ve been defined by Waymo and Lyft, while Uber would have been trapped in a ride-sharing app box. As soon as a deal was on the table, Khosrowshahi took it.   

And Waymo? They could’ve taken the trial to the bitter end. But to win it, they would have had to prove Uber’s guilt. Evidence was considerably weak. Kalanick claimed he’d never seen the files. Levandowski indicated he would remain silent. And jury verdicts are highly unpredictable. The battle may have dragged on for months – without an outcome, but with spiralling costs for both parties. As Uber agreed to grant Alphabet 0.3% in equity (245 million dollars) and accept Waymo’s non-use terms (for technology Uber never admitted it stole), both parties got what they wanted. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Waymo may be the trial’s winner, but in a sense, Uber is also a winner. For Waymo, it was about making the most out of a case. In her excellent analysis, The Verge’s Sarah Jeong called the lawsuit a “nothing burger”. For Uber, it was a fight for survival.

Joining forces: A promising partner-chip

Partnering up is in vogue in the driverless business – and not unlike in human relationships, it’s about making a good catch. Yet this week’s news made heads turn. Tech company Continental and chipmaker NVIDIA closed a deal to enable the next generation of AI self-driving vehicle systems.

The two industry heavyweights will be working on a sensing, planning and acting supercomputer on wheels, with a targeted market introduction in 2021. Capable of Level 3 AD and relying on deep learning, the AI-powered system will run on the NVIDIA DRIVE™ platform, including NVIDIA’s cutting-edge DRIVE Xavier™ system-on-a-chip. Combined with Continental’s expertise in system and software engineering and high-end sensors, “we’ll achieve new levels of safety, comfort and personalization for future vehicles,” Continental CEO Dr. Elmar Degenhart says.

Working with both chip providers NVIDIA and Intel-Mobileye, Continental is following an open and flexible approach to supply AD technology – serving diverse demands in a dynamic, fast-paced market.

Yet in face of the automated driving vision, openness goes beyond business – and its effects transcend the realm of technology: Openness is the essence of diversity. And I mean this very much in a cultural sense. It’s a philosophy, a mindset – a credo. Bringing AD to the market won’t be possible without partners coming together, doing what they do best – and turning competition into win-win situations. It’s open-minded collaboration that creates a marketplace of ideas, enabling movers and shakers to mingle and bright minds to merge. Or, as we at 2025AD put it: “Together, we’ll come to better solutions.”

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),

Stephan Giesler

Editor-in-Chief, 2025AD

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