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In the newly released Elon Musk biography by Walter Isaacson, an image of a Tesla robotaxi concept with a Cybertruck-inspired design has captured the attention of enthusiasts. This two-door, two-seater vehicle showcases a “Cybertruck-like” appearance, characterized by its angular edges and stainless steel finish, which, unfortunately, appears to attract fingerprints.
While it remains uncertain whether this concept will ever see production, considering the anticipation surrounding the actual Cybertruck, the photo provides confirmation that Tesla’s engineers drew inspiration from the distinctive wedge-shaped design.
The biography also includes a second image featuring Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief designer, standing next to an “early robotaxi” prototype. This cardboard cutout version features two seats and ample space behind them for luggage. The timeline for this early design remains unclear, but it falls within the book’s section covering Autopilot (Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system) and Musk’s life between 2014 and 2016.
The photos of the robotaxi images within the biography began circulating on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, before the book’s official launch.
Isaacson has been gradually revealing excerpts and insights from his biography of Musk over the past few weeks to generate excitement for the book. In one revelation, he disclosed that Tesla plans to manufacture its next-generation electric vehicles, including a $25,000 car and a robotaxi, in Texas rather than at the upcoming Gigafactory Mexico. This Texas facility will implement Tesla’s “unboxed process,” introduced at the automaker’s 2023 Investor Day in March, which allows factory workers to work on separate sections of the vehicle and assemble them at the final stage.
Both the $25,000 car and the robotaxi will feature futuristic designs akin to the Cybertruck, promising to turn heads with their appearance. Musk once stated, “When one of these comes around a corner, people will think they are seeing something from the future,” during a confidential meeting in September 2022, according to Axios.
Notably, the robotaxi will be built from the ground up without pedals or a steering wheel, despite objections from engineers who favored a safer design concept, citing concerns about Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software’s readiness. FSD is Tesla’s upgraded advanced driving assistance system capable of automating certain driving tasks in urban and highway environments but has not yet achieved full autonomy. It relies solely on cameras, rather than a suite of sensors including lidar and radar, to gather environmental data, supported by Tesla’s Dojo supercomputer for rapid decision-making.
Musk remained resolute in his decision, affirming in an August 2022 meeting, “Let me be clear. This vehicle must be designed as a clean robotaxi. We’re going to take that risk. It’s my fault if it messes up. But we are not going to design some sort of amphibian frog that’s a halfway car. We are all in on autonomy.”
At present, federal safety standards prohibit the mass production of vehicles lacking steering wheels or pedals, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to announce new rules on this matter in September.
While other companies are introducing purpose-built autonomous vehicles, such as GM’s Cruise and Amazon’s Zoox, characterized by their spacious, boxy designs with four to six seats, Tesla’s robotaxi may only accommodate two passengers, potentially limiting its mass-market appeal.
Musk had previously announced plans to launch a dedicated robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedals by 2024. Achieving this goal necessitates the development, testing, verification, high-volume production, and commercial launch of a robotaxi service within two years. In California, where the most stringent regulations and autonomous vehicle activity exist, Tesla holds a permit to test driverless vehicles with a driver in the front seat, but not without one.
Tesla’s choice of launching its robotaxi service may be influenced by Texas, where regulations concerning autonomous vehicles are less restrictive compared to California.
Tesla’s approach to introducing robotaxis to the market remains somewhat unclear. Musk has long promised to transform existing Tesla vehicles into robotaxis using FSD software. He envisions a service resembling an “Airbnb for cars,” allowing owners to generate additional income by dispatching their vehicles to provide rides.
FSD, along with Tesla’s previous ADAS version, Autopilot, has faced criticism from Tesla owners, safety regulators, and federal agencies for various issues, including false advertising and promoting capabilities that are not yet fully realized. Musk recently showcased the software in a live video, during which he had to take control of the vehicle to prevent it from proceeding into an intersection during a red light.