Elon Musk says he’s certain that Tesla cars will be ready to drive themselves by the end of the year — if only regulators would allow it. Many of the company’s cars already have an “autopilot” option that allows for some self-driving features, such as auto steering, braking, and the ability to stay in the correct lane on the highway. But Musk recently told a podcast by the investment firm ARK Invest that the technology will soon be even further along than previously thought.
“The car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up and take you all the way to your destination without an intervention, this year,” he said on a podcast conducted by the firm, which is a Tesla (TSLA) shareholder. “I would say I am of certain of that. That is not a question mark.”
Musk said even that level of self-driving would still require a driver to remain aware and be able to take over if there are problems. But he added that limitation could be lifted soon, too. “We would think it is safe for somebody to essentially fall asleep and wake up at their destination? Probably towards the end of next year,” he said. “That is when I think it would most likely be safe enough for that.”
Musk included a major caveat: He doesn’t know when regulators would allow for that kind of technology on the roads so soon. “That’s a variable over which we have limited control over,” Musk added. “I’m not sure when regulators would agree.”
Musk’s predictions on Autopilot’s capabilities have fallen short before. In 2016, he said he expected Autopilot would drive from Los Angeles to New York without intervention by the end of 2017.
Not everyone agrees with Musk. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, for example, believes the prediction is wildly optimistic, according to its research director Shaun Kildare.
He said Tesla vehicles don’t have as many ways of detecting obstacles as some of the cars being tested by Alphabet’s Waymo unit, or the various automakers. And he said it’s not at all clear that Tesla’s autopilot safety data is as conclusive as the company claims.
Kildare said his group supports autonomous driving, and added that it “can save a lot of lives, prevent a lot of injuries.” “But it’s not ready yet,” he said.
Musk’s statements are concerning because they could encourage Tesla owners to pay less attention than is necessary when they use self-driving features, Kildare said. “We already have massive concerns,” he added. “This only adds to it.”