Tesla CEO and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk says he expects technology for fully autonomous cars to be ready in five to six years.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Musk said the consequence of automated vehicles will be significantly less risk of injury to the car’s occupants as well as lower risk of damaging other vehicles and striking pedestrians than if it was to be manually driven.
“They will be a factor of 10 safer than a person [behind the wheel] in a six-year time frame,” Musk was quoted as saying.
Although the technology will be there by 2020, it’s likely that regulatory approval and worldwide implementation and acceptance will take at least another five or possibly ten years.
While Musk admitted that Tesla is itself working on the technology that will guide autonomous cars, other companies like Google are also actively in pursuit of creating the software required to control self-driving vehicles.
Tesla will also begin to generate free cash flow starting in the third quarter of next year, allowing the USD $32.58 billion ($36.37 bn) company (NASDAQ market cap at time of publication) to fund its own battery factory without additional borrowing, following this year’s $2.3 billion ($2.57 bn) capital raising.
According to Musk, who was fundamental in the creation of internet payment system PayPal (now owned by eBay) and was used as an inspiration for Tony Stark in the IronMan movies and is also currently also in charge of SpaceX (the leading rocket and spacecraft manufacturer), the main issue with autonomous car software is image processing, or ‘machine vision’, which remains the biggest technological bottleneck for all forms of artificial intelligence.
The human brain possesses around 100 billion neurons, some of which have considerably more than 10,000 contacts (synapses) with other neurons. Comparing this with even the most advanced and interconnected computer system in the world, the brain’s image processing ability is substantially more advanced.
For those interested, there’s a rather interesting book called Machine Vision by By E. R. Davies, which can be found here, that does a great job of explaining what will likely be the biggest technological challenge of the next century.
With Tesla expected to launch in Australia in November this year, there will be a significant amount of news and details to emerge as the American company prepares to reset the ingrained perception of electric cars.