Tesla Model S

Is Tesla Motors Using an Israeli Firm to Develop Self-Driving Tech?

According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the Californian automaker will bring some form of semi-autonomous — or autopilot — technology to market by 2016, presumably as a software feature for its Model S, Model X, or perhaps Model E electric cars.

European Tesla Model S

Is Tesla using an Israeli firm to develop self-driving technology?

We’d always assumed Tesla was working on its own self-driving technology, but now news from Israel suggests that Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA] may be outsourcing at least some of that development work to a company already known for its work with accident avoidance systems.

Enter Mobileye, an Israeli technology firm which Isreali news site Harretz claims has been given permission to import a single Model S into Israel from the U.S. The purpose, to use the luxury electric sedan to develop semi-autonomous driving technology.

Previously responsible for developing autonomous accident avoidance technology, Harretz claims Mobileye is working directly with Tesla to help it achieve its goal of offering a form of autopilot feature on its electric cars.

Unlike the fully-autonomous self-driving features we’ve seen in the past demonstrated by Google and Nissan, the technology likely to be developed by Mobileeye is designed to act as a temporary driving aid when the driver’s attention is elsewhere.

As Mobileye’s co-founder Amnon Shashua has explained in the past, “it’s not automatic driving in which the driver puts an address in and goes to sleep. The system permits control to be transferred to it for a limited time. You can read a text message or switch radio stations and temporarily turn over control.”

This particular type of functionality ties in very neatly with the way Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has described autonomous and semi-autonomous driving technology. Developing fully autonomous vehicles is far more complex from both a technological and legislative point of view, Musk has argued, than a car which tackles 95 percent of driving duties.

It’s worth noting that neither Mobileye nor Tesla Motors has confirmed the importation of a Model S into Israel by Mobileye is for the expressed purpose of developing self-driving functionality exclusively for Tesla. Given Mobileye’s past expertise in active safety systems however, we think it’s certainly plausible Tesla — who we know likes to be thought of as the world’s safest car brand — is working on some form of collaborative project.

Swiss firm Rinspeed has already given us a concept self-driving Tesla Model S. Sadly, it was just a concept, not a real self-driving car...

Swiss firm Rinspeed has already given us a concept self-driving Tesla Model S. Sadly, it was just a concept, not a real self-driving car…

However, one fly in the ointment of this particular rumor is Musk’s previous comments made earlier this year at a Town Hall Meeting in Amsterdam. Talking about adaptive cruise control, Musk described the technology as ‘interesting’ but something which Tesla didn’t have plans for at that time. Explaining that it would require a forward-facing camera or laser sensor, Musk didn’t commit to including or exclude such technology from Tesla cars for the foreseeable future, but we’d guess that any self-driving technology would need at least adaptive cruise control and forward-facing sensors to function.

Known for its high-tech startup companies, Israel — specifically Tel Aviv — is already home to several autonomous driving projects, including a General Motors-owned research facility said to be developing its own autonomous driving technology.

The real question of course, isn’t necessarily when autonomous driving technology will make it into electric cars like the Tesla Model S– but what it will be like to drive a car with it fitted.  We think it’s now inevitable we’ll see self-driving cars within the next ten years, but we want to know if you’ll trust a car to drive itself or prefer to drive yourself.

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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