News of Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk talking about autonomous driving recently surfaced this week.
Specifically, Musk said Tesla will have all the necessary technology in place to allow for fully autonomous driving by the end of 2019. "The car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, and take you all the way to your destination without an intervention," Musk said, "I am certain of that."
However, even when the vehicle has all the necessary technology, it will not function with "100% certainty" likely until the end of next year, Musk reasoned. Even then, regulatory hurdles could make it difficult to achieve this level of autonomy.
So where are we on this whole autonomous driving thing?
Despite the many advances by tech companies and automakers alike, there are still plenty of industry doubters out there that do not believe autonomous driving is coming. That's despite Alphabet's (GOOGL) (GOOG) Waymo unit officially launching its commercial autonomous taxi service in Arizona in late 2018. It's despite Amazon's (AMZN) recent investment in Aurora that valued the company at more than $2.5 billion or the almost $1 billion that Nuro picked up in its Series B round led by SoftBank (SFTBY) just a few days later.
We could go on and on about the various reasons why autonomous driving is on the way, but there are really two simple catalysts: Safety and money.
Almost 40,000 people were killed in car accidents last year, and that's just in the U.S.! Globally, roughly 1.25 million people are killed per year in car accidents, with an additional 20 million to 50 million that are injured or disabled. Even using the high end of the injury number, that's still less than 1% of the entire global population.
But if we can create technology that saves those 40,000 lives a year in the U.S. and the 1.25 million lives globally, along with dramatically cutting down those who are injured, why wouldn't we?
Of course, saving all of those lives won't be achieved for several decades, and deploying autonomous driving technologies around the globe is not realistic at the moment. However, the point is very simple: With 94% of accidents coming as a result of human error, it's suffice to assume that an autonomous driving system would eliminate a large number of those accidents and thus a large number of those deaths.
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, road crashes cost $518 billion globally. Simply put, there are too many lives at stake and too much money (from a transportation, cleanup and efficiency standpoint) to ignore self-driving cars.
Else we wouldn't have Alphabet, Nvidia (NVDA) , General Motors (GM) , Intel (INTC) , Ford (F) , Daimler (DDAIF) , Baidu (BIDU) , Volkswagen (VLKAY) and Apple (AAPL) , along with countless startups and other companies collectively pouring tens of billions of dollars into the industry.
From a regulatory standpoint, it is tricky to navigate, as Musk reasoned. Because there is local, state and federal oversight, getting everyone on the same page is often difficult to do. On the plus side, though, those on the federal side -- as observed during our visit to Nvidia's GTC conference in D.C. a few months ago -- are more than willing to play ball with companies. They want autonomous driving to succeed and they want the U.S. to be a leader in that department.
The speed of innovation is remarkable and that's what happens when we work with artificial intelligence. That said, this type of speed can be jarring for consumers and that's why so many companies are working on perfecting the systems.
Musk has been overly ambitious in the past, but is he now? Perhaps a bit. But even if the technology is ready this year, Musk is correct that it will take time for there to be "100% certainty" within the system. Further, weather and certain terrains present an even greater issue with autonomous driving. Either way, 2019 and 2020 will be big years for the industry, not just Tesla.