Elon Musk: Tesla Will Have Level 5 Self-Driving Cars This Year
Tesla will have essentially fully autonomous self-driving vehicles this year, CEO Elon Musk said in a video recorded for a Chinese AI conference. And it can be achieved with the existing technology inside Teslas shipping today.
“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year,” he said. “I think there are no fundamental challenges remaining for level five autonomy.”
There are many small problems, Musk acknowledged, and there’s the challenge of not just solving them but putting the whole system together. And even when almost complete, there could be challenges.
“You’re able to handle the vast majority of situations,” he told the World AI Conference in Shanghai. “But then there will be something very odd.”
Level zero self-driving is complete human control. Level five is completely autonomous is any situation: no human driver is required. Currently shipping systems are typically thought to be level two or three. Level four is self-driving, but generally only in select conditions and on certain roads.
Of course, having level five autonomy in the lab is not the same as delivering it to customers. And there’s the whole matter of regulatory approval as well. So Musk’s declaration that Tesla has is extremely close to solving full autonomy and self-driving for cars should not necessarily be taken as a commitment to delivering that capability to customers in 2020.
However, as I’ve argued in the past, Tesla is the car maker most capable of both quickly learning from an incomparable amount of data and rapidly releasing those learnings to its customers. The company’s self-driving technology is the best currently shipping in the world, and improving at a faster rate than any other automotive manufacturer. (Friends of mine have used the company’s Autopilot technology for tens of thousands of miles. One let his Tesla drive him from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, using a fruit wedged in the steering wheel to simulate a human touch.)
While not perfect — and while Musk has probably been too aggressive in promoting it — Tesla’s Autopilot technology is simply learning faster from more miles driven than any other competitor.
Those real-world situations that its millions of cars face every day are critical, Musk says.
“You need a kind of a real-world situation,” Musk said. “Nothing is more complex and weird than the real world. Any simulation we create is necessarily a subset of the complexity of the real world.”
Musk has said that Autopilot technology was basically the “entire expense structure” at Tesla, highlighting that it’s a core driver of Tesla’s value proposition. That’s why the company charges thousands of dollars for Autopilot technology — and has since 2016 — that cannot yet be fully used by customers.
But customers of Teslas today won’t need technology upgrades to use full autonomy when it ships, Musk said.
“I’m absolutely confident that this can be accomplished with the hardware that is in the Tesla today,” he told attendees. “And simply by making software improvements we can achieve level five autonomy.”