Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk says he’s 100 percent certain his company’s cars will be fully self-driving by the end of this year, but that safety regulators stand in the way of allowing driverless cars to operate.
Many Tesla cars are already largely self-driving. Those vehicles equipped with the “autopilot” feature already allow drivers to let their guard down and let go of the wheel while the vehicle steers, brakes, and navigates itself.
But in a recent interview, Mr. Musk said that advances in technology would allow “the car to find you in a parking lot, pick you up and take you all the way to your destination without an intervention, this year.”
“I would say I am of certain of that. That is not a question mark,” he said in a podcast interview with the firm ARK Invest, which owns shares of Tesla.
Mr. Musk said that self-driving Teslas still require drivers behind the wheel as a backup, overriding the vehicle if needed, but he says the cars will be fully driverless by the end of next year. Fully self-driving cars would, for example, allow the vehicle occupants to “fall asleep and wake up at their destination.”
Mr. Musk indicated that despite his company’s rapid advance toward fully self-driving vehicles, it’s unlikely legislators are prepared to allow the complete removal of the human element. How long it will take to get the federal government and all states on board with the regulatory framework needed for driverless vehicles is anyone’s guess, but it’s a goal Mr. Musk sees within reach.
As Tesla vehicles navigate roads, highways, and parking lots, they feed data back to the company and to the brains behind the entire fleet. This means that the cars are continually learning, and Mr. Musk says they are growing exponentially smarter.
He says this massive and ever-growing collection of data will ultimately show legislators that self-driving cars are safer than cars operated by humans, simply because they remove human error and poor judgment.
Some safety advocates say that the technology is promising but doubt that it is as ready to take over U.S. roads and highways as Mr. Musk claims.
Shaun Kildare, research director for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told CNN that his organization has massive concerns about Tesla’s self-driving vehicles and doesn’t see human drivers being eliminated anytime soon.
He said that Mr. Musk’s statements about the readiness of Tesla vehicles to drive on their own are concerning because they may invite drivers to become overconfident in the car’s abilities and pay less attention to the road – a psychological factor that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found to be a contributing factor in at least one Tesla autopilot death.