Tesla's Model S sedan, the car company’s flagship vehicle, was first shown as a prototype in 2009, has been on sale since 2012, and, barring one small change to remove the fake grille at the front, has looked exactly the same for nearly a decade. This is notable because most manufacturers fully redesign their cars every four to six years to keep them fresh—and to keep buyers buying. For Tesla, tech upgrades are the selling point. The company pushes software updates several times a year, adding features like summon, where a car pulls in and out of a garage with nobody inside, or camper-mode, for sleeping in the car with the heating on.
Tesla’s biggest claim is that one day, all the cars it’s currently building will be capable of full-self driving. So when Elon Musk announced after the company's second-quarter earnings report that Tesla is developing its own computer chips, it was a momentous claim by the car company. Musk's grand reveal (which maybe actually isn't news given Musk said this at an AI conference in December, a fact WIRED reported on then) led him to boast the company has “the world's most advanced computer designed specifically for autonomous operation.”

Musk says the new silicon is an order of magnitude faster than the chips in their cars now, a product developed by NVIDIA, an industry leader and supplier to at least 20 other robo-car developers. The NVIDIA chips, Musk says, can deal with 200 frames of video per second, from the cameras around the car. (Unlike most other autonomous vehicle developers, Tesla is determined that cameras are enough to perceive the world, and it doesn’t need the more expensive lidar sensors.) Tesla’s chip can handle 2,000frames per second, with some spare capacity left for redundancy and safety.

That might be true, but it’s not a Ruffles to Ruffles comparison. “The performance claims are against what they have in the vehicle today, which are three years old,” says NVIDIA’s director of automotive Danny Shapiro. NVIDIA’s latest siliconis at least 10 times faster than that, which would put it on a par with Tesla’s chip.

Tesla's chip development is key to improving Autopilot. Right now the term is an umbrella for a collection of driver assistance tools, but in October 2016 Elon Musk claimed that all new Teslas now come with the hardware—cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and an on-board supercomputer—for self driving. They just needed to develop the software.
It turns out that computer wasn’t powerful enough. Tesla upgraded it once, a year later, but now says it’ll have to upgrade all the cars again, with even more number crunching power—and the new chip. All the connectors on the computer, which sits behind the glove box in the Model S and X, are exactly the same, so it’s just a case of service centers plugging in a new one. “It's super kick-ass,” says Musk.
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