Tesla will be able to make its vehicles completely autonomous by the end of this year, founder Elon Musk has said.
It was already “very close” to achieving the basic requirements of this “level-five” autonomy, which requires no driver input, he said.
Tesla’s current, level-two Autopilot requires the driver to remain alert and ready to act, with hands on the wheel.
But a future software update could activate level-five autonomy in the cars – with no new hardware, he said.
Speaking via video, Mr Musk told the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai: “I’m extremely confident that level five – or essentially complete autonomy – will happen and I think will happen very quickly.
“I feel like we are very close.
“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year.
“There are no fundamental challenges remaining.
“There are many small problems.
“And then there’s the challenge of solving all those small problems and putting the whole system together.”
Real-world testing was needed to uncover what would be a “long tail” of problems, he added.
IHS Markit analyst Tim Urquhart said level five autonomous driving was the “holy grail” of the industry.
“It’s a typically bold claim by Mr Musk,” he said.
“Even if Tesla can reliably roll out the technology in a production environment, the regulatory environment in all the major markets is way behind allowing completely autonomous vehicles on the road.”
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Some Tesla users were already misusing the current technology, Mr Urquhart said.
“I’ve always slightly questioned the naming of the Tesla system,” he said.
“The fact that it’s called Autopilot, when it’s only a level-two system, is I think problematic.”
“There are no basic requirements with level five – it has to be absolutely bulletproof, fool-proof, tested in real world environments to the nth degree.”