Elon Musk sat down with Tasha Keeney and Cathie Wood of ARK Invest February 19 for a podcast session that focused primarily on Tesla’s Autopilot technology and when Musk sees it being capable of driving cars with no human interaction.
ARK Invest is a financial management company whose stated mission is identifying “disruptive innovation in the public markets,” according to its website. “We research a global universe that spans sectors and market capitalizations to offer investment solutions with low correlation to traditional index-based strategies, because we believe innovation is key to growth.” Currently, about 8% of ARK’s portfolio is invested in Tesla. The group’s target price for the stock in the long term is a highly aggressive $4,000 per share.
“I think we will be feature complete — full self-driving — this year,” Musk said in the podcast interview. “Meaning 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, this year. I would say I am certain of that. That is not a question mark. However, people sometimes will extrapolate that to mean now it works with 100 percent certainty, requires no observation, perfectly. This is not the case.”
In other words, he is talking about Level 4 autonomy not Level 5, which presupposes that the car can do everything a human driver can do under all conditions. That goal is still a few years away, Musk suggests, and depends on certain factors over which Tesla has no direct control, such as state and federal regulators. “My guess as to when we would think it is safe for somebody to essentially fall asleep and wake up at their destination? Probably towards the end of next year. That is when I think it would be safe enough for that.”
Autonomous cars are the holy grail for most automakers today, as well as Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google (er, Alphabet). What makes Tesla so sure it is able to keep up with all those heavy hitters? “The reason Tesla is making rapid progress is because we have vastly more data, and this is increasing exponentially.” As each new Tesla hits the road, its onboard computer begins sending streams of data back to Tesla, where engineers can use it to verify the functionality of Autopilot and compare upgrades that are in the works with real-world experience.
Musk has stated repeatedly that Autopilot is already safer than a human driver and will only get better over time. “No matter how you slice the data, it is unequivocal at this point that it’s safer to have autopilot on.” Finally, Musk told Tasha and Cathi, “People think sometimes that I’m like a business person or finance person, or something like that. I’m an engineer. I do engineering, always have.” Seems to be working out reasonably well for him so far.