Elon Musk focuses on wider release of self-driving cars by year's end

Tesla CEO's comments come while speaking at energy conference in Norway, Reuters reported

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla. AFP
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Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive of the world’s biggest electric vehicle maker Tesla, has said he intends to have self-driving cars ready by the end of the year, it was reported on Monday.

The world’s richest person, who was speaking at an energy conference in Norway on Monday, said he expected a wider introduction of self-driving vehicles to the roads of the US and possibly Europe, depending on the regulatory approvals, Reuters reported.

Mr Musk said he was also focusing on his SpaceX Starship spacecraft.

“The two technologies I am focused on, trying to ideally get done before the end of the year, are getting our Starship into orbit … and then having Tesla cars to be able to do self-driving."

However, this is not the first time Mr Musk has made announcements about self-driving cars.

In 2019, he voiced his ambition to have 1 million robotaxis on the road by the end of the following year.

Mr Musk said during a first-quarter profit conference call in May: "It [robotaxi] is going to be highly optimised for autonomy — meaning it will not have a steering wheel or pedals. There are a number of other innovations around it that I think are quite exciting, but it is fundamentally optimised to achieve the lowest fully considered cost per mile or kilometre when counting everything.”

Recently, he changed his goal of 1 million robotaxis and focused on attracting 1 million people on to Tesla’s full self-driving (FSD) software beta programme.

There is a big difference between a robotaxi and the FSD programme. A robotaxi can offer a service without a driver, whereas FSD requires a human driver behind the wheel to be vigilant and ready to take control at any time.

Mr Musk this month said the price of FSD software would rise to $15,000 in North America from September 5. FSD is also available on subscription for $199 a month but Mr Musk did not mention any alteration to that cost. It was also not stated whether the price rises would be across global markets.

This is the second FSD price rise this year, after it increased from $10,000 to $12,000 in January.

The current FSD offers auto lane changes, navigation on autopilot, autopark and smart summon, whereby drivers can use their phone to call the car and have it drive itself to their location without a driver.

Traffic light and stop-sign control allows the car to detect and react to traffic signals. Despite the advancements in technology, Tesla's FSD does not make its cars fully autonomous.

Mr Musk also said the world needed more oil and gas now to deal with the energy shortage, while also using sustainable sources of energy.

"Realistically, I think we need to use oil and gas in the short term, because otherwise civilisation will crumble," Reuters quoted Mr Musk as saying on the sidelines of the energy conference in the southern city of Stavanger in Norway.

"One of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced is the transition to sustainable energy and to a sustainable economy … that will take some decades to complete."

Mr Musk's comments come as Europe is grappling with its worst energy crisis in decades.

Russia cut off gas exports to several European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, for refusing to pay in roubles, a demand imposed by the Kremlin in March.

The main Russia-Germany pipeline, Nord Stream 1, is operating at only 20 per cent of capacity for what Russian exporter Gazprom claims are technical reasons.

The result is a scramble by countries such as Germany to stock up on gas for the winter and an initiative by the European Union to reduce gas consumption by 15 per cent in the cold months.

Updated: September 08, 2022, 5:59 AM