Elon Musk's next big idea is to develop a fleet of electric self-driving buses which would ferry commuters around major cities, reducing congestion and air pollution. The idea, described for now as an off-hand remark, echoes plans currently in place at a number of car manufacturers who see a future of shared autonomous transport.
During a visit to Norway, the country's minister of transport, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, asked Musk if we can expect Tesla to "revolutionise mass transit when it comes to buses". In answering, Musk revealed that Tesla, his California-based electric car company, "has an idea for something which is not exactly a bus, but would solve the density problem in inter-city situations."
Musk added: "I think we need to rethink the whole concept of public transport and create something that people are actually gonna like a lot more," before stopping himself because "I have to be careful what I say these days...I'll make an offhand comment ...and then international press will seize on that and turn it into a big headline."
Perhaps Musk's thoughts here came a little too late, as his comments are already making waves across international news sites. But no matter, because Musk's plans for a new form of bus are remarkably sensible, achievable, and already being worked on by others, including Ford.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress earlier in 2016, Ford CEO Mark Fields and Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering, said the company is looking into an autonomous vehicle which falls somewhere between a public bus and a private taxi. These thoughts were repeated weeks later at the Geneva motor show by several other manufacturers, including BMW, which told IBTimes UK it is experimenting with the idea of a "robo-taxi" for when its customers don't want to do the driving themselves.
Musk went on, surely knowing his comment were already being written up by journalists: "There's a new type of car or vehicle that I think would be really great (to solve vehicle density in cities problem) and actually take people to their final destination and not just to the bus stop."
Apart from being the perfect 21st-century upgrade for the bus, this sentence is an example of how Musk persuades us to believe his ideas, no matter how extreme they might be. A recent study by Noah Zandan, founder and CEO of Quantified Communications, found that Musk uses the present tense four times as much as the average person; an example here being "there's a new type of car" when, as far as we know, it doesn't yet exist.
Musk still draws in the crowds for talking about trips to Mars and hotels in space, but plans for autonomous buses (plans made believable because veterans like Ford agree) are how he'll keep drawing in the investors to make his vision a reality.