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Tesla Makes Plans For Self-Driving Car By End of 2017, But Let’s Not Get Our Hopes Up Just Yet



Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors has made an assertive prediction for his autopilot technology and made a rather ambitious deadline. Musk had previously promised the availability of electric cars and trips to Mars, which he did infact achieve, albeit way off schedule.

Musk has now pledged that before the end of 2017, Tesla will produce a car with the ability to drive itself all the way from Los Angeles to New York, no human necessary.

The timeline he has given himself is years ahead of the other big players also working on completely autonomous cars. Google hasn’t given a solid date, but it is looking likely to be 2021, Ford is also aiming towards 2021, whilst Baidu in China is working towards 2019. Just to make it clear though, these companies are forecasting autonomous cars that will drive itself within limited areas only, not cross-country.

So, let’s see the likelihood of Must actually making this happen by 2017.

Let’s take a look at the data

Creating a vehicle which can handle any given situation requires a great amount of teaching. Google, undoubtedly is the leader in this field: their fleet of over 60 self-driving cars have covered over 2 million miles around a select number of cities. Although Tesla does claim an advantage, stating its cars have covered well over 222 million miles in its Autopilot mode, not just in a few cities, but all across the world whilst collecting data.

The technology

To make things more difficult, Musk has decided to avoid the widely utilised LIDAR sensor technology, which shoots outward laser pulses to build an extremely accurate graphical representation of the environment. Musk has previously stated how much he despises it, not to mention the it’s cost; nearly $80,000 (£61,000).

Instead, Tesla is using 8 cameras and a front-facing radar which Musk states will provide as good a view of surroundings as LIDAR. Jeffrey Miller, whom is a student at University of Southern California studying autonomous driving, says:

“LIDAR is a great technology, but it’s got moving parts which make it prone to fail, and it’s very expensive.” It’s also been found to have trouble in fog, snow and rain. So, can Tesla function without the use of LIDAR? “Absolutely.” Miller says.

Jianxiong Xiao, on the other hand, is not so sure: “I’m quite skeptical they can have a solution, which is perfectly safe, without LIDAR.” Xiao says. Whilst he believes Tesla can indeed build a car which is safer than human drivers, he also states that for 100% safety, LIDAR is probably the only possible solution.

Legal aspects

Regulators in the United Sates are slowly beginning to develop regulations that govern autonomous technology, but it is clear to say that they are nowhere near the point of validating the Level 5 system Tesla has proposed.

Miller believes Musk to be deliberately operating within a grey area. Tesla’s plan is to upgrade their cars’ autonomous functionalities bit by bit i.e. implementing the ability to follow traffic signals first, then adding the capacity for the empty car to search for parking spaces etc. This in turn leaves us asking, when exactly will their cars actually become fully autonomous?

Musk is known for his great level of ambition, yet often failing to reach the milestones he lays out. On the other hand, what we can say is, whilst his ambitions don’t usually pan out on time, he does make them happen in due course.

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