Tesla could be the first company to develop fully-autonomous cars.
Speaking remotely at the 2020 World Artificial Intelligence Conference in China on Thursday, Tesla founder Elon Musk says the company is "very close to level five autonomy".
Level Five autonomy is the industry's label for fully-autonomous driving – the point at which a car can take over all duties from a human.
While most of the car industry has been quietly retreating from its bold predictions about the imminent arrival of fully autonomous vehicles – as they encounter real-life scenarios that can trick the technology, and push back their deadlines – the controversial Tesla boss seems determined to accelerate towards a driverless future.
"I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year," Musk said in the video address.
While the company may be close to having the technology in-hand, it's unlikely a fully-autonomous driving feature would be made available to Tesla owners immediately.
However, Musk says Tesla models already have the capability to eventually implement level five autonomous software: "I'm absolutely confident that this can be accomplished with the hardware that is in the Teslas today."
Critics of Tesla technology say there are not enough cross-checks with multiple systems, increasing the risk of errors which could prompt the vehicle to make poor decisions.
In 2014 Musk told the Wall Street Journal autonomous vehicles would be here by 2020, but in late 2015 the Tesla CEO told Fortune Magazine the technology would arrive by 2018. In 2018 Musk reiterated in a tweet the technology was coming soon.
Tesla's 'Autopilot' system – widely considered to offer Level Two autonomy – has received criticism since it was publicly rolled-out across Tesla vehicles in 2015, with a number of crashes and fatalities while the system was engaged. Many blame driver complacency, rather than the system itself.
At the beginning of July, Tesla overtook Toyota as the most valuable car manufacturer (by market capitalisation) in the world.