However, it’s the autopilot feature that’s making the Model S wildly popular. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, previously said in the Nikkei interview that full-auto pilot cars were just five or six years away. However, in the CNNMoney interview, Musk was quoted as saying, “A Tesla car next year will be 90% capable of autopilot.”
While that seems like a far more aggressive estimate than the previous five or six years time frame, it’s the last 10% which will be the most difficult to achieve.
With the recent upgrades on the Model S, we do have an idea what that 90% will likely include. Driverless car tracking, for one, is going to be available. Like the idea of your car slowing down when the traffic lights turn red at intersections without you having to step on the brake. Or imagine it having the car come to a full stop in front of the mall to pick you up at the curb.
The first one isn’t just slightly possible, it’s already here. The technology is already out in the market with the 2014 Model S, and we can expect mainstream automakers to start rolling out models with autopilot capabilities soon. Models that can adjust speeds on the road and change lanes all on autopilot are now going to be just around the corner.
The second scenario, however, where you get picked up at the grocery store by your car on autodrive, is going to take some time before it can see the light of day. Right now, the future of autopilot drives seems to exclusively include drivers behind the wheel. And Tesla isn’t the only one thinking through problems to get the design onto the market.
Google (GOOG) has been working on the idea for years. And even San Francisco has already given its go signal, allowing Google to use state roads for its test drives. Other states are looking to lift the regulation on autodriving within the next year, too.
But state regulations aside, the central problem seems to deal with the question of how to equip autopilot designs with a roadmap and system that has the intelligence to recognize everything it will need to recognize on the road.
Most smart applications in the market (on phones and watches and other tech gadgets) are already changing what smart applications mean. So while cars without drivers behind the wheel may prove to be an entirely new concept for many, maybe it’s not such a stretch to imagine that the next models out would have what it takes to turn that 90% into a solid 100%. And that the electronic carmaker will have what it takes to make the world’s first car with full autopilot capabilities a Tesla — much, much sooner than later.
(Photo courtesy of Windell Oskay)