“I think we have all the pieces,” Musk told Fortune, “and it’s just about refining those pieces, putting them in place, and making sure they work across a huge number of environments — and then we’re done. It’s a much easier problem than people think it is.”
Although Musk’s comments to Fortune came Monday, The Street pegged a rise in Tesla’s shares to the comments on Tuesday. The ambitious timeframe appeared to be offering support to the stock again today, with shares trading up $1.47, or 0.64 percent, at $231.42 around 7:18 a.m. PST.
Musk’s driverless-car comments may have been overshadowed initially by the achievement of SpaceX on Monday night in landing a rocket during a commercial mission for the first time. Musk is also CEO of SpaceX.
This is the most aggressive timeline Musk has mentioned. While Musk claims the problem is easier than people think it is, he doesn’t think the tech is so accessible that any hacker could create a self-driving car. Musk took the opportunity to call out hacker George Hotz, who claimed via a Bloomberg article last week that he had developed self-driving car technology that could compete with Tesla’s. Musk said he wasn’t buying it.
“But it’s not like George Hotz, a one-guy-and-three-months problem,” Musk said to Fortune. “You know, it’s more like, thousands of people for two years.”
The company went so far as to post a statement last week about Hotz’s achievement.
“We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles,” the company stated. “It may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road — Tesla had such a system two years ago — but then requires enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads.”
While Tesla is unconcerned about Hotz, the company’s new timeline may have other autonomous car developers hitting the accelerator. Tech companies like Google and Apple, in addition to automakers such as Volvo and General Motors are all competing to be among the first to offer some form of self-driving tech. Many believe the early 2020s would be a realistic timeframe to expect to see the public engaging with self-driving cars.
Just yesterday, it was reported that Google and Ford will enter into a joint venture to build self-driving vehicles with Google’s technology, according to Yahoo Autos, citing sources familiar with the plans. The official announcement is expected to come during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but there is no manufacturing timeline.
But even if Tesla moves quickly on self-driving cars, are consumers ready for them? The Palo Alto-based carmaker’s recent Firmware 7.1 Autopilot update includes restrictions on self-driving features. The update only allows its Autosteer feature to engage when the Model S is traveling below the posted speed limit. The update came shortly after it was reported that drivers were involved in dangerous activities while the Autopilot features were engaged.