Elon Musk says we will have self driving cars as early as next year

The prolific entrepreneur has rustled media feathers once again with another bold claim to add to the list of bold claims.

Photo: Peter Tsai via Flickr

An interview conducted with a 24-year-old Elon Musk back in 1999, cautioned us against being too quick to brand his ambitious projections as quixotic.

Before the turn of the millennium, Musk championed the internet as the new viable landscape for exchanging goods by way of injecting a large portion of his net worth into a fledging company-then called X.com, now known ubiquitously as PayPal.  To many of those in the know at the time, the internet was but a provisional fad.


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The prolific entrepreneur has rustled media feathers once again with another bold claim to add to the list that perpetually folds industry experts into two camps: the optimistically curious and the practical detractors.

Musk claims that as early as next year Tesla drivers will be able to sleep behind the wheel of their cars.

“I think we will be feature complete, full self-driving, this year — meaning 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. I would say I am of certain of that. That is not a question mark,” he said in the interview.

The naysayers

Soup to nuts, statistics and spectators seem to have join forces against Musk’s lofty prediction.

John Alexander, policy director for FCAI, for one, rejects the realization of fully automated vehicles on the horizon, even while conceding the incredible speed at which the science behind them is hurling forward.

“Even with this rapid development, mass-market introduction of very high or full levels of driving automation systems is unlikely until at least 2030,” Alexander said. 

AutoNation CEO, Mike Jackson went as far as to call Elon Musk’s confidence on the subject “unethical.” Karl Brauer, who was perhaps a touch more charitable, repudiated Musk’s portend with a sober consideration of the very real challenges currently menacing the prospect of fully self-driving cars:

“There are so many different ways that a car has to be able to deal with driving: weather, lighting, traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists. To say you’ll have all conditions solved in the next 12 to 18 months, nobody else is making that claim and there are some pretty big companies out there like Google who are doing this and have been doing this for a decade.”

Is a self-driving car that far off though?

All the critics certainly have legs to stand on, but in defense of the famed Musk hyperbole, a fully functional self-driving car is not exactly science fiction anymore.

Wes Messamore recently indexed all the ways the future Tesla heralds is very achievable in the near future. He correctly evidences Congress’ haste to instate regulations to accommodate driverless vehicles.

Even Tesla’s fiercest contractors agree that automated vehicles reside in the not so distant future. Many projecting the next decade at the earliest.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.