When Tesla Motors announced its dual-motor Model S electric sedan last fall at a special event at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, it also announced the fact that every new Tesla built from that point on would include the hardware necessary to one day enable autonomous driving features via free, over-the-air updates.
Those updates, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk Promised, would make it possible for the high-end luxury electric car to automatically and safely change lane for you on a busy freeway, adjust its cruise control in response to posted speed limits, and park itself without a human inside. Despite these high-tech features however, Mask has chosen to refer to Tesla’s autonomous driving technology not as a replacement for humans, but rather as the automotive equivalent of an airplane autopilot: something which can take over 99 percent of driving duties but still requires a licensed driver for the 1 percent of things the car can’t do on its own.
Talking at the 2015 GPU Technology Conference earlier this week however, the CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX told NVIDIA CEO and co-founder Jen Hsun Huang during an on-stage interview that autonomous vehicles could one day make human-piloted vehicles illegal.
The interview, which immediately followed the unveiling of NVIDIA’s DRIVE PX self-driving car computer, served not only to highlight the power of NVIDIA’s latest generation of high-power processing chips but also to lay out a future roadmap for autonomous vehicle technology.
“We’ll take autonomous cars for granted in quite a short time,” Musk said. “I almost view it as a solved problem. We know what to do, and we’ll be there in a few years.”
When that happens, Musk said, the relationship we’ll have with our cars will start to change, as will the relationship that legislators have with vehicles. While the dawn of self-driving cars poses many a question for legislators today he said, there will be a point in the future where legislators will act to prefer autonomous rather than manually-driven cars.
“In the distance future, I think it’s probably going to be… people may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous. You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine,” he said.
“It’s not going to all transition immediately,” he said. “It’ll take quite a while,” noting that it would take at least 20 years for that to even be a possibility since the current world fleet of vehicles to be replaced, even if autonomous vehicles became commonplace right now.
Even then however, autonomous cars still face some pretty tough challenges. While autonomous vehicles can operate at low speeds below 10 miles per hour without too many challenges — partly due to having plenty of time to assess and react to problems as they occur — the real challenge is training them to tackle the average urban and suburban street scene, complete with pedestrians, cyclists and other ‘unpredictable’ road users.
“Once you get above 50 mph in a freeway environment, it gets easy again,” Musk added.
But while Musk foretold the end of humans driving vehicles on stage, he took some time after his appearance to let his followers on social media network Twitter know that eliminating the fun of driving isn’t one of Tesla’s goals as an automaker, reiterating that he hoped legislators didn’t outlaw driving forever.
However, when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter. Hopefully not.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 17, 2015
Do you agree with Musk’s asssesment that it’s likely at some point in the future that non-autonomous vehicles will be outlawed due to the inherent risks they bring to ever-busy roads? Or perhaps you think they’ll be relegated to surface streets and banned from high-speed travel?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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