Elon Musk promises driverless cars by the summer

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We like to think we have a pretty good handle on the future as far as driverless cars are concerned, with a rough estimate of around 2017 for the first motorway driverless cars and 2025 for the first batch of commercially available, drive-anywhere autonomous vehicles. However CEO of Tesla Elon Musk thinks differently and is actually pegging this summer for the first iterations of self-piloted vehicles to be available on American roads. Unsurprisingly, that driverless technology won’t be coming from one of his competitors either.

Oddly though, Musk isn’t suggesting that this will come in the form of a brand new vehicle, but the same software update we talked about a few days ago. It he says, will give the cars that Tesla already has out in the wild, autonomous abilities overnight. Nobody expects these cars to start driving themselves around the world of course, but they should be able to effectively drive themselves on the motorways of the US without driver intervention, utilising an advanced form of smart cruise control. Musk did state that drivers would be expected to remain alert throughout however.

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Perhaps the long-delayed Model X will have new autonomous features when it is finally released.

The problem though, according to NYTimes sources, is that the legal framework for such autonomy just isn’t there yet and that Tesla Model S owners that try to take their hands off of the wheel this summer, could find themselves in trouble with the law.

“There’s a reason other automakers haven’t gone there,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “Best case scenario, it’s unclear. If you’re an individual that starts doing it, you’d better hope nothing goes wrong.” And that reason isn’t just philosophical, but legal, he said.

Others however believe this is a bold step by Musk, that will encourage law makers to speed up their acceptance of driverless technology, helping drive it forward and allow for more nuanced usage of vehicle autonomy in the long term. Still most think Musk will need to do some lobbying to make the practice legal by the time the proposed software update goes live in order to safeguard consumers.

Other basic automated features being added as part of the update will only be usable on private land. However Musk said that it will allow for people to send their car to park in the garage without assistance or even summon it to the front door if they want to avoid getting wet or cold.

Image source: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

 

 

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.