Tesla CEO Elon Musk told shareholders Tuesday that he thinks fully self-driving versions of his electric cars could come to market in about three years.
He said the first version of the “autopilot,” which assists drivers with steering, is due to the first batch of customers in about a month. Musk says he has been personally testing the systems in a Model S electric car.
Musk touched on self-driving several times during the company’s shareholder meeting, indicating the high level of interest in what is considered the next big transportation breakthrough. Currently, Google is testing self-driving cars in California’s Silicon Valley, where Tesla has its headquarters. Nissan and a few other automakers say they are racing to be able to offer self-driving cars by 2020.
The three-year estimate, Musk says, is when he thinks the technology will be ready. It could take longer for government regulations around the issue to go into effect. He acknowledged that it will take time for regulators to say “it’s okay to go to sleep in the car” — maybe another one to three years.
Billions of miles will be logged comparing how computers react to given traffic situations vs. how humans react, he says. He says any system that takes over a Tesla from the driver will have to be proven to be at least 10 times safer than a human driver.
He referred to the “autopilot” features as “version one,” due to be upgraded on the way toward being fully self-driving eventually. He termed its development to be “gradual progress” and that in his own testing of it, some weeks it is better than others.
While it is expected to be able to hold the car in its lane on the freeway, Tesla’s early “autopilot” could go further. Musk says engineers are trying to make it so that the car can park itself in a garage on private property, or present itself to drivers.