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Elon Musk may be busy celebrating the historic upright landing of his SpaceX venture’s Falcon rocket this week, but the billionaire entrepreneur has plenty of other futuristic visions on his mind. One of them is the autonomous driving technology he hopes to offer through his Tesla Motors marque.

Just months after launching the carmaker’s openly experimental Autopilot system, Musk has spoken again of his predictions for the onset of driverless technology.

Late in 2014, Musk said that he expects highly autonomous vehicles far safer than human drivers to be ready for market by 2020 – a sentiment shared by many carmakers developing driverless technology.

This week, however, Musk told business magazine Fortune that Tesla is making even greater progress in its development of autonomous driving systems, suggesting a target closer to 2018.

“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,” Musk told Fortune.


Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, as many CarAdvice readers have noted, there are thousands of situations that a driverless vehicle must be taught to anticipate and respond to – and many are not convinced that a computer will ever be able to predict a potential accident as well as a human.

Musk isn’t unaware. “The data is not yet there to support a fully autonomous vehicle,” he said.

“The point at which it becomes statistically clear that an autonomous car is safer, I think, regulators will be comfortable with allowing it.”

Just as there are thousands of situations both known and unforeseen that an autonomous vehicle must be able to deal with, Musk says there are “thousands of people” working on the technology.

Musk wouldn’t be moved to discuss the next generation of Tesla’s Autopilot system, however. That “would be a major announcement” for another time.

In March, Musk told an audience at the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology and culture conference that he foresees a future where humans may be banned almost entirely from driving – although he’s not personally looking forward to it.

“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.”