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Elon Musk: Self-Driving Cars Are Coming Sooner Than You Think

They're coming within two to three years -- give or take another five, pending government approval.


Fully autonomous cars are only “two to three years away,” according Tesla chief Elon Musk. Although the cars will then need to leap the hurdle of regulatory approvals, which the exec and perennial inventor said would tack on another “one to five years.”

Tesla has quietly been releasing self-driving features into its vehicles. Its latest software upgrade equips Tesla vehicles with autonomous highway driving. Between 600 and 700 drivers have been testing the feature on roads already, Musk said at the Vanity Fair Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The bulk of the session, in which Musk shared the stage with Y Combinator head Sam Altman, was far-ranging and bizarre, twisting from nuclear fusion versus fission to Mars colonization. (At one point, the moderator, New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, asked Musk if he thinks we are living inside a video game. Musk paused. “I don’t think I’m being played by somebody in a video game,” he replied. “But people in video games generally don’t think that.”)

But the more pressing part of the conversation concerned Tesla. The electric carmaker, which released its highly anticipated SUV last week, has been working on autonomous features for some time, with several vehicles permitted to test in California. Some people watching the industry say the company is approaching Google as far as tech, although it recently lost its autonomous driving lead to startup Cruise.

Google has said full, widespread autonomy should come within five years. Earlier today, Toyota said it will also hit that 2020 deadline.

Both Musk and Altman agreed that the tech will be here sooner than most estimates. Although Musk offered an important caveat: Within three years, “you’ll be able to demonstrate it,” he said, “but you won’t be able to go fully autonomous until you go through regulatory approval.”

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