Self-driving Cars · December 2, 2021

How each Tesla car will have thousands of years of driving experience

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

To become truly versatile, self-driving cars’ AI need far more training data than is available today. Where will this data come from? A recent patent filing from Tesla hints at one possibility.

Conceived by Tesla’s Director of AI, Andrej Karpathy himself, this patent envisions all Tesla cars to generate useful training data every time they hit the road.

You see, when in motion, Tesla cars continuously scans their surroundings. The car’s AI tries to identify everything in its vicinity, be it a person, a traffic light, or even a piece of debris. The problem is that this identification is not always accurate and inaccurate identification might cause wrong decisions.

One way to improve an AI is to train it with more data, which in this case, would be images of different objects. Collecting tens of thousands of images of tens of thousands of objects is expensive, to say the least, but Karpathy’s idea could make it almost effortless.

The patent suggests that whenever a Tesla car will recognize an object, say a tire lying on the road, with some degree of confidence less than 100%, it will store that image and upload it to the Tesla cloud. There, the image will be analyzed and used for training improved AI models. These improved models will then be downloaded to all cars through regular updates.

Figure from Tesla’s US Patent Application No. 2021/271,259

You might think that thousand of images of tires do not seem particularly more useful than say, a dozen images of tires, but consider the fact that a tire might look very different on a rainy night than on a sunny day. Also, think about how tires might look different when they are partially buried in ice or dirt. Whatever be the state of the tire and irrespective of the lighting conditions, you would want a car to recognize a tire when there is one.

With so much training data pouring in, it might be possible. Each trip will add to the collective driving wisdom of the cars. Doing some number crunching on the estimate that Electric cars on average are driven about 9,500 miles per year, the Tesla cars manufactured till date can gather a collective driving experience of about a thousand years every day!

Do you think that’s impressive? I think that’s super impressive.

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