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Tesla Rolls Its Own Self-Driving Chip

May 14, 2019

Author: Mike Demler

By building a custom ASIC that delivers up to 74 trillion operations per second (TOPS) of neural-network acceleration, Tesla has set a new high-performance mark for ADAS and autonomous-driving processors as it seeks to fulfill CEO Elon Musk’s promise of “full self-driving” (FSD) capability.

The carmaker uses two of the chips in its next-generation FSD computer, but they operate in a completely redundant mode. Tesla builds the computer on a PCB that plugs into the same enclosure as its AutoPilot system. It manufactures the chip in Samsung’s 14nm technology. The first version taped out in August 2017, but design modifications delayed volume production until July 2018. In December, Tesla began installing the FSD computer in employee-owned vehicles; it now ships as an option in Model 3, Model S, and Model X vehicles.

Developing its own hardware and software enables Tesla to optimize its system, and customers generally report that AutoPilot has a good ability to learn and improve over time. Compared with the company’s previous-generation hardware, the FSD chip delivers a 5.5x boost in neural-network acceleration, which will speed that improvement. More importantly, it’ll make the vehicles safer. The hardware upgrade means Tesla will probably be the first carmaker with part-time Level 4 autonomous features, but fully autonomous driving under all conditions will take much longer. 

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