According to what Elon Musk Tesla Inc said in a prerecorded video played during the World AI Conference in Shanghai, it is “very close” to developing fully autonomous vehicles and could work out the basics of that technology as soon as this year.
Accordingly, the carmaker is on the verge of developing technology to render its vehicles fully capable of driving themselves, repeating a claim he’s made for years but been unable to achieve.
The chief executive officer has long offered exuberant takes on the capabilities of Tesla cars, even going so far as to start charging customers thousands of dollars for a “Full Self Driving” feature in 2016. Years later, Tesla still requires users of its Autopilot system to be fully attentive and ready to take over the task of driving at any time.
“I’m confident that we will have the basic functionality of L5 autonomous driving this year,” Musk said. “There are no fundamental challenges.”
Tesla’s mixed messages have drawn controversy and regulatory scrutiny. In 2018, the company blamed a driver who died after crashing a Model X while using Autopilot for not paying attention to the road. Documents made public last year showed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had issued multiple subpoenas for information about crashes involving Tesla vehicles, suggesting the agency may have been preparing a formal investigation of Autopilot.
While other self-driving developers have tempered expectations for when their technology will be ready for deployment, Musk is undeterred. He said in a prerecorded video played Thursday during the World AI Conference in Shanghai that Tesla is “very close” to level five autonomy, meaning its cars won’t require human intervention.
“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year,” Musk said. “I think there are no fundamental challenges remaining for level five autonomy. There are many small problems, and then there’s the challenge of solving all those small problems and then putting the whole system together, and just keep addressing the long tail of problems.”
Shares of Tesla rose as much as 3.1% to $1,408.56 in early New York trading on Thursday.
Tesla is racing against the likes of Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and General Motors Co’s Cruise, which recently acknowledged it will be relying on human safety drivers to back up its robotaxis for many years to come. General Motors Co.’s Cruise last year backed off plans to make autonomous vehicles available for hailing rides and hasn’t set a new timetable for when such a service will be ready.
Musk, 49, has repeatedly described autonomous driving as transformative for Tesla. He’s not alone in this sense: Cruise CEO Dan Ammann has estimated there will be a $1 trillion addressable market in the U.S. for autonomous ride-hailing.
During Thursday’s video, Musk said that original engineering on Tesla technology is an important facet in Chinese company’s operations, which are anchored by its massive new factory near Shanghai.