How 'Tesla Network' could make your car pay for itself
I quite like visiting new places. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Estonia. It was certainly different to other destinations I’ve visited. I remember walking out from my Airbnb and taking stock of how dissimilar things were to the UK. I recall thinking how almost ‘Soviet’ things seemed, almost as though I had been dropped into a COD Modern Warfare game. That’s not to say it was bad – just different. I had a great time. I drank a lot of beer.
One thing that was comfortingly similar to the UK was the ability to summon an Uber. In fact, the somewhat questionable trustworthiness of Estonian Taxi drivers meant Uber usage was actively encouraged. Estonian Ubers were actually able to outclass the UK equivalent by being so damn cheap. Four of us were able to beckon an Uber and go anywhere that took our fancy for less than the price of a pint or two. My only reservations were the varying degrees of success with driver conversation and the size of the car versus four guys with luggage. It made me wonder whether hiring a car was a good option, but I drank a lot of beer…
Happily, Elon Musk appears to have things under control. His latest optimistic idea goes by the name of “Tesla Network”. Not content with sending Teslas into space, he wants to make them fully-autonomous. Now, a fully autonomous Tesla shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who follows Mr. Musk and his adventures, but the Tesla Network plans to take things a step further.
Owning a Tesla will soon cease to feel like traditional car ownership. If you like, you’ll still be able to own your vehicle outright and do with it as you please. However, you will be given the opportunity to ‘share’ it with others. With the correct infrastructure, you’ll be able to ‘loan-out’ your Tesla to other users when you don’t need it. Musk estimates that most Teslas spend 90-95% of their time not being driven – the Tesla Network will allow you to put your car to work as an autonomous taxi, with the potential to regain or even surpass the monthly cost of ownership.
With this comes the possibility of others driving your Tesla. The Tesla Network could have the facility for your car to be rented, rather than used ‘for hire’. Thinking ahead, Musk appreciates not everyone will be so keen on letting just anyone take control of your pride-and-joy. The Tesla Network will permit restrictions on who can use your car. You can limit usage to friends, family, 5-star-rated drivers etc. This could be particularly useful if you have family visiting but you know your 17-year-old Nephew, given half a chance, would spend all of his time in Ludicrous Mode before being enveloped by a lamppost.
There are some major hurdles to overcome with this ambitious project. The first is autonomy. It’s not natural for humans to accept a loss of control – which is often why autonomous failures make headline news. Approving an autonomous driving system literally takes millions of miles of testing and there’s a lot of regulations and criteria to satisfy.
Even before you consider the red tape, you need the technology. Not to be outdone, Musk has shown he’s once again two steps ahead. The Tesla Model 3 is already shipping with autonomous driving hardware on-board as well as tech geared towards Tesla Network.
The Model 3 includes a cabin-facing camera, a ‘key’ linked to your iPhone and soon the ability to store driver settings remotely, meaning any Tesla anywhere in the world can adapt to your preferences. These have fairly obvious links to Tesla Network and autonomy and the CEO is confident that current production vehicles are capable of full autonomy with the exception of a plug-in computer upgrade: “a thing that can be done quite easily”.
Another serious consideration for this project is just how popular it could prove to be. Studies have estimated a rough cost of $0.63 per mile to use the Tesla Network service. That’s cheaper than any taxi, Uber, Lyft or equivalent and rivals a lot of public transport services.
There’s a realistic chance that the traditional commute could take place in the comfort of an autonomously-driven Model 3. Tesla will even supply Tesla-owned cars to the Network in order to meet demand, meaning that there’s potential for a herculean increase in road traffic. If only Mr. Smarty-Pants could think of a way to reduce traffic too…