The prolific Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, has just revealed plans to take the company on a path towards developing and producing autonomous cars, putting it even more at odds not only with rival car makers, but even with technology giant Google, who also has similar plans. Tesla, however, has more reasonable goals, albeit paired with a seemingly tighter schedule.
The topic of autonomous cars is nothing new, either in the automobile world or in tech circles. Interest in research and development in that area was recently reignited by Google dipping its toes in such a project. Unfortunately, it appears that Google, who specializes more on software and the odd device or two, has been having a hard time finding a partner that will help push its endeavors forward.
Newcomer Tesla might not have such a problem, as it has not only the muscle to actually produce the cars, but also vision and guidance of Musk. It produced this year's first profitable electric car, the Model S luxury sedan, proving to its peers that it means business. Tesla expects to sell 21,000 units this year and plans to build another electric car, this time intended more for the masses.
Google and Tesla are hardly alone in this hi-tech thrust. Nissan also has plans to have such a car ready by 2020. The difference in Tesla's approach is that it isn't seeking to go autonomous all the way. Musk says that 100% is too far a goal and Tesla will instead be aiming for even just 90%. This will produce a system that drivers can turn on auto-pilot in most circumstances, but still remain in control the rest of the way.
It remains to be seen if Tesla will be able to live up to expectations or if the retention of at least 10% human control will assuage safety concerns. We might not have to wait that long to find out, as Musk claims robot cars will be ready for the road by 2016.
SOURCE: Financial Times