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Elon Musk updates timeline for a self-driving car, but how does Tesla play into it?

Speaking at a conference on artificial intelligence yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk updated his timeline prediction for a fully self-driving car  to 2 years. He also predicts that  another year after that cars will be significantly better drivers than humans.

Now it’s interesting to look into how Tesla’s self-driving effort plays into this prediction.

There’s no doubt that Musk is pushing back his timeline on fully autonomous driving.

Almost exactly two years ago, Musk predicted that autonomous driving would be ready in two years – though he emphasized that it wouldn’t necessarily be commercialized due to regulation.

Now at the conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) yesterday, Musk said that they could achieve some level of full self-driving within two years, but that the more important timeline would be 3 years, at which point self-driving capabilities would be significantly better than human drivers.

Interestingly, Musk previously described how he evaluates the progress and the timeline for artificial intelligence:

“If any given year you find your predictions are going further out or coming closer in, that actually one way to think of acceleration [of progress] because otherwise what’s the quantitative measure of AI?”

It does appear that his predictions are now pushing further out and that may reflect some issues Tesla has had with its self-driving program over the last two years. The main issue being the transition from Mobileye to Tesla’s own computer vision technology in Autopilot 2.0. Also there has been some turnover in the computer vision/AI lead role at Tesla.

Earlier this year, Musk said that Tesla was aiming for level 5 autonomy,the highest level, which allows the “driver” to sleep in the car. His timeline for this was, at that time, two years out.

Tesla already sells vehicles with the ‘Fully Self-Driving’ feature, which is currently disabled. However, the company claims they will eventually enable it through software updates as soon as regulations allow it.

A demo of this feature was supposed to be demonstrated with a coast-to-coast test drive by the end of the year, but it’s unclear if that is still in Tesla’s plans.

If Tesla can actually achieve this cross country trip, they will have achieved level 4 autonomy.

Electrek’s Take

It’s really hard to say how Tesla’s self-driving effort plays into Musk’s predicted timeline.

The way I see it, it sounds like Tesla could enable level 4 autonomous driving over the next year under the “fully self-driving” option offered in the Model S, Model X, and Model 3.

Then, Tesla could gradually improve on the level 4 capabilities to eventually reach level 5 another year after level 4, which would be in line with Musk’s new timeline.

It’s only speculation at this point especially because we don’t know how, and when, regulations could come into effect.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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