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Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, told an audience at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference that, in the future, humans may be banned from driving cars for safety reasons.

Musk spoke on stage at the South by Southwest conference with Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of graphics chip maker Nvidia. During his conversation with Huang, the Tesla CEO said that sitting in an autonomous car was analogous to riding an elevator, because it was once common to have a lift operator, but now we fully trust electronic and mechanical systems to deliver to us safely to our desired floor.

According to Musk: “In the distant future … people may outlaw driving, because it’s too dangerous. You can’t have a person driving a two tonne death machine.”

That time, though, may be long way down the track because “for a very long time there will some legacy cars on the road”.

Later on Twitter, Musk backtracked a bit. In a series of tweets he stated: “To be clear, Tesla is strongly in favor of people being allowed to drive their cars and always will be. Hopefully, that is obvious. However, when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter. Hopefully not.”

At SXSW Musk noted, given the large numbers of vehicles on the road today, that it’s “going to take quite a while” before we see either full scale automotive electrification or wholesale adoption of autonomous cars.

With current technology Musk believes that autonomous “highway cruise is easy, low speed is easy”. At speeds under 15km/h “you can stop within the range of the [ultrasonic equipment]”, while on a freeway or highway “we can definitely make the car steer itself … and do lane changes”.

The real problem is urban settings between 15 and 65km/h where “a lot of unexpected things” occur, such as the behaviour of bicyclists and children at play, lane markings that disappear, and temporary or partial road closures.

Musk’s comments about the urban driving challenge almost mirror that of Daniel Lipinski, project leader for the Audi A7 Piloted Driving project, whom we spoke to at great length at CES.

Once those problems have been solved, politicians and regulatory bodies will “all want to see a large amount of statistical proof that [autonomous driving is] not merely as safe as a person, but much safer”. Musk believes, though, that “the evidence will be overwhelming”.




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