Elon Musk recently announced that Tesla would be creating cars that could drive themselves, and that they would be on sale within the next three years. That means by 2016 you could let your Tesla pilot itself down the road while you quickly check your email. Stuck in traffic? Let your car handle the stop and start while you browse some articles.
Musk has in the past pointed out that the technology was too expensive, so this is a bit of a turn around for the CEO. But once he announces that something is a goal, Musk tends to have a track record of follow through. No one expected him to revolutionize the car industry with all-electric vehicles, or put people in space or create a solar installation revolution. But with Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity, Musk has become one of the major industrial revolutionaries.
But why focus on this technology, other than the cool factor? And how can Tesla pull it off? Here are three reasons it makes sense and will probably happen.
High-end luxury vehicles are already heading down this path
Manufacturers like Mercedes are already including auto-pilot like technologies in their cars that are already for sale. Mercedes’s lane assist technology will prevent someone who’s fallen asleep at the wheel from driving across the line. You can’t quite take your hands off while on the highway and let it take you places, but it’s an evolutionary step closer to that.
Adaptive cruise control, also in many high-end cars, can slow down before you come up on the bumper of a car behind you. Once you set it, you don’t have to keep messing with it because of cars moving slower up ahead. Brakes can pre-prime when they detect stopping cars ahead. Some cars even initiate braking maneuvers to save lives.
Other cars are able to park themselves. As luxury cars are coming with abilities that were once considered futuristic, the Tesla will work to keep a step ahead. Or at least even. Mercedes won’t be staying still on lane assist technology. You can bet Tesla will be innovating as well to attract its luxury buyers. And it’s luxury cars that have the high margins that allow them to insert high-end technology on the leading edge. Unlike other EV manufacturers, Tesla has the margins to be able to play with a technology like this.
Tesla is as much a tech company as a car company
Tesla isn’t just competing with auto manufacturers, even though that is the battle many focus on. Tesla is at heart a technology company that makes hardware no other technology company makes: cars. Tesla doesn’t just have Ford to keep an eye on, Tesla is eyeing what the folks at Google are doing as well. Don’t forget, Elon Musk made his money from his time spent at Paypal.
The insight that allowed the Tesla Roadster to become a reality was that laptop batteries, thousands of them, could serve as a power system for an electric car. It was an insight missing at other car makers that came because Tesla has Silicon Valley in its veins as much as anything. And if Google is working on automated driving, Tesla will be motivated to match the technology.
Because Tesla Model S has the highest safety score of any car ever tested
When the Tesla Model S was tested it blew the safety score records off the charts. It even broke equipment trying to test its limits. It’s fast become a point of pride for the folks at Tesla, and they’re leveraging it much like the folks at Volvo used it to promote their own vehicles.
Future technology for helping safety means helping humans get out of the decision loop. There’s only so much you can do for the car once it’s hitting something. Helping it avoid hitting things is far more effective and not hurting the people inside. Just as automated braking technology and better swerving help is being built into cars, more advanced driving technology, autopiloting, will all help Tesla become a safer car.
There are many reasons for Tesla to look toward automated driving as something that will help it distinguish itself in the market. The fact that Elon Musk is now claiming it’s coming means the race toward automated driving is picking up. And Tesla looks to be jockeying for the lead.