Is Tesla Really Ahead on Self-Driving Cars?

The amenities and safety features in Tesla's Model S compete well with those in the gas-powered luxury cars of today -- but to keep up with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, even Tesla will have to push technology further. Photo credit: Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) and its brash CEO, Elon Musk, love nothing more than to name an outrageous-sounding technological goal -- and then meet it. The latest: Musk said this week that Tesla will be able to offer cars that are (mostly) self-driving in three years.

That's way ahead of giants General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) , which have been saying that 2020 is a more likely date for the arrival of autonomous cars. In this video, Fool contributor John Rosevear looks at what Musk really said and argues that Tesla's goal this time isn't revolutionary -- instead, it's more likely to be the basic price of admission to the luxury-car market in a few years' time.

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  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2013, at 10:05 AM, fpl1954 wrote:

    I will be interested to buy as long as the car wakes me up for the 10%

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2013, at 10:07 AM, dannystrong wrote:

    Short answer: no. Longer answer: Mr. Musk will say anything that keeps his company in the papers and the stock price (absurdly) high. The question: why is the motley fool helping him with such gusto?

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2013, at 10:52 AM, SUCHERIN wrote:

    Tesla's are great, but can't afford. My issue is with the notation of $100 oil. Every time I see this sort of pricing indication, the prediction or prophesy is fulfilled in short order. Seems to me there is a conspiracy to jack up the price of oil. Please increase my understanding.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2013, at 10:12 PM, PaulGodsmark wrote:

    What Musk has announced is a 90% self-driving car. That will allegedly improve your driving experience and safety, but it will also end up de-skilling you and lead to all sorts of additional distracted driving situations. But Musk has to be seen to follow the automaker herd.

    None of the automakers really want to build a fully self-driving car as it means that there will be a massive increase in automated shared mobility fleets - which means the auotmakers 130 year old business model will bust. They won't be able to sell at least one car to everybody. Currently one car-share company vehicle typically takes 9 to 14 private cars off the road (Shaheen UC Berkely). We could easily say that one self-driving fleet car will take 2.5 private cars off the road (Kornhauser, Princeton). They will then end up selling far more cars to fleet buyers - who will want a more rugged, durable, reliable and easily maintained product. But if a 90% self-driving car will make it's onwer's life easier, this pales in comparison to the fully self-driving car technology that Google aspire to have in our hands by 2017. That will transform society - much like the internet has done.

    The difference between a Tesla 90% self driving car, and the 99.9999% self-driving car that Google are aiming for is so many magnitudes different it doesn't even bear comparison. Right now any motivated undergraduate course given 3 years could produce something approaching a 90% self-driving car. I therefore have no doubt that Tesla will be successful in this.

    But society transforms when we have a fully self-driving car. The products that Tesla and Google aspire to provide are two totally seperate things.

    Also, be aware that the secret of a fully self driving car is the Artificial Intelligence Operating System (AIOS). A software 'brain' is the key to success - the automotive engineering side is merely a distraction here. Any established automaker is capable of integrating the sensors and the requisite automotive components that are necessary to facilitate automated driving. The key to success is the AIOS - the electronic brain.

    So to even think that Tesla are going to catch up, or even overtake Google in that department is... preposterous. Google have been developing their AIOS for over four years now, having cherry-picked some of the best people from the DARPA challenge. They have a team of over 62 staff in the self-driving car team, and goodness knows how many people in AI development and virtual testing also assist behind the scenes. They have one of the most advanced AI research groups in the world. They have approximately 32 test vehicles on public roads that have racked up well over 500,00 miles of real world testing. They have a $50bn cash pile to call upon if needed.

    So what Musk is doing is not competing with Google. But he does seem to be preparing the way so that if he chooses to licence the Google AIOS in the future then he will have a fully tested understanding of how to integrate the necessary sensors into one of his amazing vehicles.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2013, at 10:17 PM, PaulGodsmark wrote:

    “My opinion is it’s a bridge too far to go to fully autonomous cars,” Mr Musk said in an interview with the Financial Times. “It’s incredibly hard to get the last few per cent.” What is funny about that comment, is that Ron Medford of Google (formerly 2nd-in-command at NHTSA) effectively answered Musk's statement in response to a question that I posed at the TRB Conference on Road Vehicle Automation. Go to 14 mins 18 secs for my question and Ron's answer where Ron says "Someone asked us what our magic is, and the answer is; there's no magic, it's just very hard work".

    So yes Google would seem to agree with Musk that it is very hard work - they just happen to have done a lot of that hard work already. Consider that Google have a team of over 62 people and probably 32 or more self-driving cars backed by possibly the best internal artificial intelligence research group in the world - and a $50bn cash pile to draw upon should they need it. Oh, and a 4 years head-start having cherry-picked some of the best competitors from the DARPA challenge. Of course Musk will be playing catch up in the 'hard work' stakes.

    If you want to better understand the potential implications and impacts of fully self-driving cars then you may find my blog of some assistance:

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2013, at 7:46 AM, Pakirk53 wrote:

    I must be out of the loop been driving for 35 years and yet to encounter anyone saying what we need is self driving car. Second is law the segway was supposed to transform urban transportation except cities banned them from side walks

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