Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he’s confident that the carmaker will achieve full self-driving next year, in 2019, ahead of any other car manufacturer and he’d be very surprised if any of the other car companies exceeds Tesla in self-driving. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)
Speaking with Recode’s editor-at-large Kara Swisher, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he’s confident that the carmaker will achieve full self-driving next year, in 2019, ahead of any other car manufacturer.
“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but I would be very surprised if any of the car companies exceeded Tesla in self-driving, in getting to full self-driving,” confided Musk. “They’re just not good at software. And this is a software problem.”
However, in the race to fully autonomous driving, Musk does think that Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car division, would be Tesla’s closest competitor although he doesn’t believe anyone comes close to Tesla “in terms of achieving a general solution.”
“You can definitely make things work like in one particular city or something like that by special-casing it,” he added. “But in order to work, you know, all around the world in all these different countries where there’s, like, different road signs, different traffic behavior, there’s like every weird corner case you can imagine. You really have to have a generalized solution. And to the best of my knowledge, no one has a good generalized solution.”
In the interview, Musk also covered the most advanced feature in the latest release of the carmaker’s Autopilot self-driving software (version 9), Drive on Navigation.
“That’s [drive on navigation] I think one of the first major steps toward full self-driving,” he said. “It’s pretty wild. It’ll overtake a slow car. It’s basically integrating navigation with the Autopilot capability.”
After entering your destination address, Tesla’s new Autopilot navigation system guides the car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, suggesting and making lane changes, navigating highway interchanges, and taking exits, finding and following the most efficient path to your destination.
Atherton Research’s Take
Musk is still an outlier in the race to self-driving cars, as he’s one of the few to still believe that cameras (8, in the case of Tesla) are enough for an autonomous system to drive like a “superhuman,” while others like Waymo and Uber are betting on lidars (laser radars) to improve the accuracy and safety of their self-driving systems.
Indeed, lidars are better in measuring the distance between objects and could have prevented some of the accidents where Tesla cars were involved with a stationary car, like in the case of a firetruck stopped on the freeway.
Something that Tesla vehicles can’t manage currently as the Silicon Valley automaker highlights in its owners manual: “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control cannot detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h) and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object is in front of you instead.”
But even if Tesla achieves Musk dream to release a fully self-driving car next year, it will still take some time – several years probably – for regulatory approval.
Finally, with the release of version 9, Autopilot 2 is now mostly on par with the capabilities of Autopilot 1, initially developed by Mobileye, now part of Intel’s automotive division, and released over 2 years ago.
But after splitting with the Israeli startup, Tesla had to rebuild its autonomous system from scratch, delaying Musk’s self-driving plans by at least as much.