Just in case you thought you could connect a couple of PalmPilots and cameras to your car and have it drive itself, I have some bad news: making a fully autonomous car is very, very hard. One of the people who probably knows this better than anyone is superboygenius Elon Musk, but that doesn’t stop him from promising that he’s got it all figured out.
In a podcast with ARK Invest, Elon said that fully self-driving Teslas are coming definitely, definitely this year, again:
“I think we will be ‘feature-complete’ on full self-driving this year, meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without an intervention this year. I am certain of that. That is not a question mark.”
That’s pretty bold, Elon. And, while it’d be fun to just believe you, I just don’t think I can.
Remember in 2017, he said this:
3 months maybe, 6 months definitely
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 24, 2017
And, of course, that didn’t happen, because “Full-Self Driving Capability” — which I can only assume means full Level 5 autonomy—is staggeringly difficult, and, despite what Elon says, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that a car without a lidar system can pull it off. If any car with current technology truly can.
Elon’s been saying a fully self-driving Tesla would be able to drive itself coast-to-coast as early as 2018. Keen observers of the collection of events we call “reality” may recall that didn’t happen.
Really, I don’t blame Musk or Tesla for my scepticism. It’s not that I think they’re less qualified than anyone else, or that there’s fundamental issues with their tech, it’s just that the world is an incredibly chaotic place and building a driving robot capable of dealing with it all is staggeringly hard.
Sure, there’s companies like Optimus Ride with already deployed fully-autonomous vehicles, but they’re all in geofenced locations—safe, controlled environments. That’s a very different ballgame from making a car that can drive itself in the messy, entropy-filled real world.
Musk suggested in the podcast that by the end of 2020, you’d be able to fall asleep in your Tesla and arrive safely at your destination. We’ll see if that happens, but that doesn’t mean you can practice before it’s all ready.
So far, Elon’s track record on full-autonomy predictions are somewhere around zero per cent accurate. At some point, though, he’s likely to get this right. Maybe it’ll be this time?
I counsel against breath-holding.
We reached out to Tesla for comment, and will update as soon as we hear anything.