The road to fully self-driving vehicles remains riddled with obstacles, with years of refinements likely needed, despite Tesla founder Elon Musk’s claim to be able to produce one this year. Musk’s suggestion that Tesla is nearing "Level 5" autonomy appeared to stun the sector, which has repeatedly pushed back forecasts for vehicles able to operate without human help.
The Tesla founder and CEO said in a message to a Shanghai technology fair that he was “extremely confident that 'Level 5,' or essentially complete autonomy, will happen . . . very quickly." He maintained that he expected "the basic functionality" of Level 5 to be “complete this year."
But analysts say that the pledge appeared to be hyperbole from Musk, who had pledged to deliver self-driving cars by 2018 and more recently promised to deploy Robo-taxis by 2020.
We’re still a long way from a true Level 4 system, so the 'very close to Level 5' comment seems out of nowhere, especially given the reset people have had in recent years," said Paul Lewis, who heads policy research at the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation.
Lewis said there was "tremendous excitement" several years ago about the potential for full autonomy, but it has since waned.
"Technology developers are starting to realize the limits of artificial intelligence and the benefits of the human brain in handling some of these tasks."
Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor and co-director of the school’s auto technology research lab, said he was highly sceptical as well.
The recent claim "may be just another technique by Tesla to realize more of the revenue” from the semi-autonomous system the company uses, the researcher said.
"We have been many times here before," Rajkumar said, citing Tesla’s prior pledges on full autonomy. Tesla is in a fierce race with tech firms and other automakers for the lead in self-driving technology.