Tesla Car Computers Could Be Monetized In Other Ways — Like Amazon’s Big AWS Jackpot

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There was one part of Tesla’s shareholder conference call yesterday that caught my attention more than any other. That was partly because of the potential being discussed, and partly because it’s the first time I’ve heard Elon Musk and team discuss the topic.

First of all, you’ve got this question to kick things off: “Given the pursuit of Tesla really as the leader in AI for the physical world, and your comments around distributed inference, can you talk about what the approach is unlocking beyond what’s happening in the vehicle right now?”

There was a long pause until Elon Musk asked Ashok Elluswamy if he wanted to say something. He postulated that with robotaxi capability, Tesla cars would be on the road about 50 hours a week, and Musk chimed in that he had essentially the same guess — about a third of the hours in the week. Elluswamy then proceeded to say that there are other uses the computers and intelligence in Tesla cars could be tapped for.

“You can do a lot of other workloads. Even right now we are seeing [can’t understand what he said] companies have these like batch workloads where they set up a bunch of documents and those are run through pretty large neural networks — take a lot of compute to channel through those workloads,” Elluswamy said. “Now that we have already paid for this compute in these cars, it might be wise to use them and not let them be idle — be like buying a lot of expensive machinery and letting them be idle. […] We want to use the compute as much as possible.”

At this point, I was thinking about AWS (Amazon Web Services). I read something years ago that most people think Amazon become a hugely profitable company with an enormous market cap because of its online store, but it was actually AWS where Amazon hit the jackpot. AWS is what brought in the huge profits and made Amazon the juggernaut it is today. Incidentally, that’s exactly the thing Elon Musk referenced in the next line.

“I think it’s analogous to Amazon Web Services, where, you know, people didn’t expect that AWS would be the most valuable part of Amazon when it started out as a bookstore. That was on nobody’s radar. But they found that they had excess compute because the compute needs would spike to extreme levels for brief periods of the year, and then they had idle compute for the rest of the year, so then what should they do with all that excess compute for the rest of the year?” The answer was to monetize it and charge others to use that compute. Now, much of the internet is using the AWS backbone.

So, back to Tesla. “It seems like kind of a no-brainer to say ‘okay, if we’ve got millions and then tens of millions of vehicles out there where the computers are idle most of the time that we may as well have them do something useful.”

It’s a pretty fascinating topic. They add that if they get to where they expect to get with the on-road Tesla fleet, it could have the largest unusable compute sitting there able to be used for other purposes.

Frankly, as wild as it seems, the first thing that came to mind was the AWS comparison, and it’s quite easy to see Tesla developing some creative ways of using that “distributed access to power and distributed cooling” that is financially beneficial to both owners and Tesla. A few of the Tesla execs started to nerd out about the possibilities at that point of the conference call, signaling how excited they are about this. When you think about the AWS example, you have to think this could actually be a financial jackpot for Tesla years down the road. Watch this space.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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