tesla steering wheel

Musk claims Tesla is less than two years from fully driverless vehicle production

Image credit: reuters

Tesla founder Elon Musk has said that his company will make a driverless vehicle without steering wheels or pedals by the second quarter of next year.

Speaking during a webcast he unveiled a new Samsung-produced microchip that will give Tesla vehicles fully autonomous capabilities and is better than any other on the market “by a huge margin”.

Known for making ambitious claims about what his company can achieve but not always living up to the hype, experts have been sceptical about Musk’s driverless chip.

“It’s all hype,” said Steven E Shladover, a retired research engineer at the University of California. “The technology does not exist to do what he is claiming. He doesn’t have it and neither does anybody else.”

Tesla has been working on a self-driving chip since 2016 and Musk had previously forecast that cars would be fully self-driving by 2018, a target that has been missed.

Its use of the term “full self-driving” has also been criticised as it does not match up to ‘Level 4’ autonomous standards set by the industry, where the car is expected to handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention.

Musk has said that with the hardware complete, improvements in software will allow vehicles to fully drive themselves in future.

He also said that Tesla will introduce a driverless ride-hailing service next year that would allow Tesla owners to put their cars into the service via a smartphone app.

The company would take 25 to 30 per cent of the fare and vehicles would be provided in areas where not enough people share their cars.

Musk took a swipe at competitors relying on lidar – light-based sensors that are a key element in most other self-driving systems.

“Lidar is a fools’ errand. And anyone relying on lidar is doomed,” said Musk, who has been vocal about the technology’s limitations. Tesla vehicles rely on cameras and radars as their vision system for self-driving.

Competitors will eventually “dump” lidar, he said: “It’s expensive and unnecessary and once you’ve solved vision it’s worthless.”

More than 60 companies in the US alone are developing autonomous vehicles. Some are aiming to have fully autonomous cars begin carrying passengers in small geographic areas as early as this year. Many experts do not believe they will be in widespread use for a decade or more.

Mobility-as-a-Service, a term used to describe digitally enabled car-sharing and ride-hailing is expected to overtake the traditional model of manufacture and sale of cars in the future. 

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