Tesla CEO Elon Musk appears poised to transform the company’s electric cars into driverless vehicles in a risky bid to realize a bold vision that he has been floating for years.
The technology required to make that quantum leap is scheduled to be shown off to Tesla investors Monday at the company’s Palo Alto, California, headquarters.
Musk, known for his swagger as well as his smarts, is so certain that Tesla will win the race toward full autonomy that he indicated in an interview earlier this month that his company’s cars should be able to navigate congested highways and city streets without a human behind the wheel by no later than next year.
“I could be wrong, but it appears to be the case that Tesla is vastly ahead of everyone,” Musk told Lex Fridman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist specializing in autonomous vehicles.
But experts say they’re skeptical whether Tesla’s technology has advanced anywhere close to the point where its cars will be capable of being driven solely by a robot, without a human in position to take control if something goes awry.
“It’s all hype,” said Steven E. Shladover, a retired research engineer at the University of California, Berkeley who has been involved in efforts to create autonomous driving for 45 years. “The technology does not exist to do what he is claiming. He doesn’t have it and neither does anybody else.”
More than 60 companies in the US alone are developing autonomous vehicles. Some are aiming to have their fully autonomous cars begin carrying passengers in small geographic areas as early as this year. Many experts don’t believe they’ll be in widespread use for a decade or more.
Musk’s description of Tesla’s controls as “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) has alarmed some observers who think it will give owners a false sense of security and create potentially lethal situations in conditions that the autonomous cars can’t handle.
They also say they’re waiting for Musk to define self-driving and show just under what conditions and places the vehicles can travel without human intervention, including specific data showing that they would be safer than human drivers and whether the system’s safety has been reviewed by outside groups or government agencies.