Last week when Elon Musk sat down to give his Ted Talk, the Tesla CEO spoke about more than just Tesla's entry into the semi truck market and The Boring Company, he also talked about the entry into full vehicle automation. This news comes less than a week after Audi readies its first level-3 autonomous vehicle for production with the launch of its A8. Tesla, however, aims to advance at a much quicker pace for its autonomy and promises full-automation much sooner than expected.
Currently, Tesla vehicles equipped with the Autopilot hardware suite ship with eight cameras, one radar, and a series of ultrasonic sensors - all of which provide feedback to a central processing computer to control the driving. The thought is that some existing vehicles, as well as all second-generation vehicles would be equipped with E technology to enable level-5 automation without needing any upgraded hardware.
When asked when be believes that fully autonomous (Level 5) production driverless cars will be in production, he quoted a time frame of just two years. This means that around 2019, Musk believes that the vehicles sold at that will be equipped with the technology that would enable drivers to essentially be a passenger in their own car. Drivers still must be understanding that no system is perfect, so they should still remain alert - but they should feel comfortable enough with the decisions that the car is making to simply fall asleep while the car is driving.
As for actual sales and driving in that short time frame, it may not happen so quickly. Though the cars may be sold with the equipment and have the software ready, regulations may prevent driverless cars in states until thorough testing has been completed. Stanford has compiled a fairly thorough list of state-by-state legislation which shows just how different and complicated such a matter is to the different state's governments. Until a more thorough legal mesh is completed, autonomy will not experience the ideal light of day.
Musk states that Tesla is on track to complete a fully autonomous trip from Los Angeles to New York - no commands, no button presses, no human intervention what-so-ever, by the end of 2017. Of course, this is just a test trip to see how its systems fare against current roadways and adapts to changes in the environment. Once that testing completes, it will give a much more clear timeline on readying the technology for the public. Regulations aside, the future of automation is setting itself up for a very steady path.