Tesla CEO Elon Musk gathered all who would listen last Thursday for a much-hyped announcement: Each of the cars currently in production by the company will include all the hardware required to drive themselves autonomously.
But the most exciting part of the announcement may not have actually been announced at all. Instead, the company tipped off its larger plan for the future with a line on its website, buried in the fine print for customers who order “full self-driving” Teslas:
Did you spot it? Owners of self-driving Teslas have to agree ahead of time not to use the vehicle to generate revenue via a ride-hailing service like Lyft or Uber; instead, they’ll operate exclusively for a forthcoming service named (for now, at least) the “Tesla Network.”
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post, but Musk laid out the likely explanation for how a network of self-driving Teslas might function in a blog post earlier this summer.
Under a subhead titled “Sharing” on a post intended to detail his long-term plan for the company, Musk explained: “You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost.”
Musk speculated owners who lend their Teslas to the company’s ride-booking effort could profit substantially, thereby lowering the cost of ownership.
“Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day,” Musk wrote, “the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.”
Of course, in addition to the technological hurdles, self-driving cars will face substantial regulatory approval before federal officials give them the keys, so to speak.
But Tesla is well ahead of ride-hailing rival Uber in terms of technology, argues Business Insider. While Uber recently rolled out a fleet of self-driving, lidar-equipped cars for testing in Pittsburgh, Tesla’s take is already racking up highway miles ― and valuable data to fine-tune its software ― in beta across the country.