WHAT’S IN THE BOX? Tesla’s autopilot systems at a glance

Cost impact goes hand in hand with evolution in processor and system design.

Twice a month, Yole Group analysts share the noteworthy points from their automotive Teardown Tracks. Today, Morgan Collin, Technology & Cost Analyst, presents a comprehensive and impressive overview of the technological advancements and cost implications of five generations of Tesla’s autopilot systems. What technology choices has Tesla made over the past six years? How did the company successfully pioneer the development of a centralized cockpit controller?

Vehicle architecture is evolving with a shift towards a centralized processing structure for each of the four key domains: ADAS and safety, infotainment and telematics, powertrain and electrification, chassis and body. At CES 2024, Bosch, Continental and LG-Magna took a step forward by introducing groundbreaking modules merging ADAS and infotainment functionalities on one board.

In the dynamic and coveted processor market, Mobileye currently holds the top position for ADAS. However, the landscape may experience significant changes in the coming years, with NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and various startups poised to challenge Mobileye’s dominance. Leveraging smartphone expertise, Qualcomm secured the leading position in the digital cockpit processor market in 2022, relegating Renesas to second place. (source: Computing and AI for Automotive 2023, Yole Intelligence)

Highlights from Yole SystemPlus Teardown Tracks

As a pioneer, Tesla has opted for an advanced integration approach for its autopilot system, incorporating both ADAS and infotainment functionalities on separate boards. Yole Group has conducted teardowns of five autopilot versions from 2.5 (2017, on Tesla’s model 3) to 4.0 (2023, on Tesla’s model S) and today highlights the main evolutions.

At the ADAS processor level, there are two notable modifications:

  • Tesla transitioned from NVIDIA to its own chip at the 3.0 generation in 2019, leading to a board redesign. Tesla claimed that this choice was justified by the need for a better performance-to-power consumption ratio. In addition, the production volume swiftly absorbed initial development investments, resulting in a significant reduction in system costs.
  • From 3.2 to 4.0, Tesla has moved to a more advanced technology node (7 nm instead of 14 nm) with no major impact on the board architecture.

Changes were also implemented in the media control unit across generations. Better user experience required a shift from one processor (Intel) on one board (media control unit MCU2) to four processors (AMD and Analog Devices) on two boards (media control units MCU-Z and MCU3). Along with a necessary increase in memory capacity, the cost of the autopilot 3.2 has risen sharply with the two-board architecture and its four processors. Indeed, Yole Group estimates the cost of this infotainment device at more than three times that of the previous generation. A design optimization in the latest autopilot generation consolidates infotainment functionalities onto a single board, partially offsetting the cost induced by the use of the 7 nm technology node at the ADAS level.

In this in-depth analysis, many questions remain. For example, does this processor evolution also influence today’s autopilot architecture in less high-end models 3 and Y? Yole Group will pursue its investigation during the coming weeks, and will keep you posted with valuable and in-depths analyses: articles, presentations and reports, teardowns…

Stay tuned for our next What’s in the box? review!

Yole SystemPlus Automotive Teardown Tracks are the result of detailed physical and costing analyses. They are carried out by experts with academic and industrial backgrounds in the semiconductor domain. Yole SystemPlus Automotive Teardown Tracks offer a clear and fruitful understanding of the technical choices made by the leading manufacturers. It also reveals accurate insights related to manufacturing costs.

The company covers the overall supply chain from the components to the system. Based on daily technical and industrial monitoring, Yole SystemPlus has significant expertise to support innovation.

About the authors

Morgan Collin serves as a Technology & Cost Analyst at Yole SystemPlus, part of Yole Group.

With solid expertise in the analysis of electronics boards, Morgan produces reverse engineering & costing analyses while also working on custom projects for the electronic systems teams.

His mission is to identify and analyze the electronic boards and mechanical components of devices during the disassembly process. The objectives of these analyses are to understand the structure of the device, identify all the components, and determine the final manufacturing cost. In addition, he works on the construction of the block diagrams for the different reports and monitors the display software. Prior to Yole SystemPlus, Morgan worked as a production technician, purchasing and stock management, at Fougerolle.

Morgan holds a BTS Digital Systems degree (Ecole Jeanne d’Arc, France).

This article has been developed in collaboration with Adrien Sanchez, Senior Technology & Market Analyst, Computing at Yole Group.