Tesla founder Elon Musk has stated that his company is ‘very close’ to successfully bringing about level-five autonomous driving technology, and expects Tesla cars to be fully self-driving by the end of 2020.
As things currently stand, Tesla’s level-two Autopilot has Autopilot advanced safety and convenience features, with Tesla vehicles capable of steering and accelerating, as well braking automatically.
However, this advanced technology still requires motorists to stay alert and keep their hands firmly on the wheel, and the vehicles are still far from being fully autonomous.
With level-five autonomy – which Musk has long discussed as being a company goal – the driver would apparently be able to kick back, relax and let their car do all the hard work.
Musk made the following comments in a video message at the opening of the annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai:
I’m extremely confident that level-five or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly.
I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level-five autonomy complete this year.
Musk proceeded to explain that real-world tests would be required to uncover a ‘long tail’ of issues:
There are no fundamental challenges remaining. There are many small problems. And then there’s the challenge of solving all those small problems and putting the whole system together.
However, not all experts share Musk’s confidence, and with the year now more than halfway over, there isn’t much time left for Musk and his employees to bring this dream to fruition within such an ambitious time frame, BBC News reports.
IHS Markit analyst Tim Urquhart described the announcement as being ‘a typically bold claim by Mr Musk’, adding:
Even if Tesla can reliably roll out the technology in a production environment, the regulatory environment in all the major markets is way behind allowing completely autonomous vehicles on the road.
I’ve always slightly questioned the naming of the Tesla system. The fact that it’s called Autopilot, when it’s only a level-two system, is I think problematic.
There are no basic requirements with level five – it has to be absolutely bulletproof, fool-proof, tested in real world environments to the nth degree.
As per Bloomberg, Musk’s views on this matter differ greatly from those of Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, which recently said it would continue relying on human safety drivers to support its robotaxis for some time to come.
Furthermore, in 2019, General Motors Co.’s Cruise paused plans to make autonomous vehicles available for catching lifts. As of yet, the company has not presented a new schedule for if and when this sort of service would be ready.
Documents made public in 2019 revealed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had issued various subpoenas for information regarding Tesla vehicle crashes. As noted by Bloomberg, this could well suggest the agency had been preparing to formally investigate the Autopilot system.
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