When Elon Musk tweets about something, it usually becomes news for a day or two. But when he doesn’t, people speculate. So it’s been the case with Bloomberg and their anticipation of a self-driving car from Tesla. It looks like Musk has recently been in talks with Google about how this technology could steer future Tesla cars, but Elon doesn’t quite like Google’s approach.
Reason: it’s too complicated. And it really is. I thought for many times that Google’s LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) self-driving tech is a bit awkward – I mean, we can drive cars with our own two eyes, maybe with one eye (and a lot more brain processing). LIDAR is expensive. I’m not criticizing Google for making their point happen, even if not cheap, but such technology won’t ever be applied in street-legal, commercially-viable cars until it costs so little that it can be compared to systems like ABS, ESP etc.
So it’s got to be a software-based solution using cameras as the main way of guidance – just like Mr. Musk says.
Elon also doesn’t like the term “autonomous vehicle” – it sounds too military or technical. He rather prefers “autopilot” – inspired from planes. Only that flying a plane through nothing but thin air is easier (for the moment) than it is to drive a car and have it avoid potholes and go on all kinds of terrains. So I guess he’s also right when he says “Still a few years from production.” Well, maybe not that many years, but five at least (Nissan says ten).
Toyota, on the other hand, prefers a safer way to this: “virtual co-pilot.” Volkswagen, Volvo and Audi have already developed prototype models of their more or less autonomous vehicles that help drivers in moments of distraction or brake faster than they would in emergency situations.
Computer-assisted driving is a logical step in the evolution of automobiles, says Musk. It can reduce energy usage by a lot and it may kill aggressive driving (not drivers) by letting them be more confident and relaxed. However, “Tesla priority is electrification of cars, so priority is Model S, Model X, then mass market third gen vehicle & truck,” says one of Elon’s tweets.