Musk Comments on Tesla Level 5 Autonomy

Rob Maurer

In a virtual appearance at the 2020 World Artificial Intelligence Conference, Tesla (TSLA) -Get Report CEO Elon Musk stated his belief that Tesla is "very close" to achieving Level 5 autonomy, as defined by SAE International (formerly Society of Automotive Engineers). The levels, described below, show that Level 5 means autonomous driving in all conditions without any need for human assistance or backup.


While Musk's statement has received a lot of attention, it is likely not much different from the sentiment Musk has shared on autonomy in the past. Musk often talks about "feature complete" full self-driving which is his way of describing a vehicle that is capable of handling all driving tasks, but perhaps not in all cases. While Musk mentions Level 5 here to specifically address the question, it is generally not how he discusses autonomy.

"How confident are you that level five autonomy with eventually be with us? And when do you think we will reach full level five autonomy?"

“I’m extremely confident that Level 5, or essentially complete autonomy, will happen, and I think will happen very quickly. I think, at Tesla, I feel like we are very close to Level 5 autonomy. I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for Level 5 autonomy complete this year." - Elon Musk, WAIC

Musk's use of "basic functionality" here is reminiscent of his response to a question on autonomy progress from Tesla's Q4 earnings call.

“Well, I mean, to be precise, I said I was hoping it would be feature-complete with full FSD by the end of last year. We got pretty close. It's looking like we might be feature-complete in a few months. But feature-complete just means like it has some chance of going from your home to work, let's say, with no interventions. So, that's -- it doesn't mean the features are working well, but it means it has above zero chance. So I think that's looking like maybe it's going to be couple of months from now.” - Elon Musk, Q4 Earnings Call

Musk may be using "basic functionality for Level 5 autonomy" to describe what he would normally refer to as "feature complete" full self-driving.

In a separate response to a question on Tesla's progress in China, Musk was very complimentary.

“Things are going really well at Giga Shanghai. I’m incredibly proud of the Tesla team, they’re doing an amazing job and I look forward to visiting Giga Shanghai as soon as possible. It’s really impressive the work that’s been done, I really can’t say enough good things. Thank you to the Tesla China team.” - Elon Musk, WAIC

Musk also reiterated that Tesla will do unique design and engineering tasks in China, rather than simply converting projects created in the United States.

Disclosure: Rob Maurer is long TSLA stock & derivatives.