Elon Musk believes his electric car company Tesla will have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road, which can drive more safely than humans, within two years. The company founder and CEO also explained why he does not believe iPhone hacker George Hotz has created a self-driving car to rival Tesla.
The Tesla Model S can already drive itself when the new Autopilot feature is installed, using cameras and sensors to keep itself in the right lane on the motorway and steering away from potential accidents. The car can also park itself.
But Musk believes this technology will, by late 2017 or early 2018, be trusted to drive a car on any road, in any country and in any weather condition, day or night. Suggesting, as he often does, that the giant leap from automated motorway driving to full autonomous will be straightforward, Musk told Fortune: "I think we have all the pieces, and it's just about refining those pieces, putting them in place, and making sure they work across a huge number of environments – and then we're done."
Safer than a human
Saying the next update for Autopilot will be a "major announcement," Musk went on: "We're going to end up with complete autonomy and I think we will have complete autonomy in approximately two years." Musk also believes that when this vehicle is driving, the probability of it having an accident will be lower than if a human were behind the wheel.
Two years is also the expected time frame for the Model 3, Tesla's cheapest car yet, which is expected to cost around £20,000 and have an electric range of 200 miles. Other car companies, and Google and Apple, have 2020 targeted as the year when fully autonomous cars become a reality.
Referring to Hotz, who this month showed off a self-driving car which is made in his garage, apparently in just three months and with 2,000 lines of code, Musk said: "It's a much easier problem than people think it is. But it's not like George Hotz, a one-guy-and-three-months problem. You know, it's more like, thousands of people for two years."
Hotz described Tesla's software, produced in part by driving technology company Mobileye, as "absurd". Tesla then countered his comments in its own statement, debunking Hotz' claims as "inaccurate" and said it thinks it is "extremely unlikely" than a single 20-something hacker can create a self-driving car in their garage.
Musk acknowledged Hotz's hacking skills, but said building a demonstration vehicle like his, which can only work on a small section of road it knows well, is "a world of difference" from a fully autonomous car sold worldwide. "George is an amazing hacker, but you don't make production software by hacking. A hack does not work, a hack crashes."