Rumor has it that the country’s most successful electric car company could be working with Google to introduce self-driving capabilities.
Nearly every auto manufacturer on the planet offers or is working on an electric car. For some, it’s only a tiny aspect of their fleet. For Tesla Motors, it’s everything. Dedicated only to the creation of sleek, high-performance plug-in cars, Tesla recently made headlines by announcing that it is on track to repay a $465m Department of Energy loan 9 years ahead of schedule. For car makers just struggling to break even on their EV dreams, the news was proof that Tesla is ahead of the game. Way ahead.
The success helps to explain another astounding announcement: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, is talking with Google about adding driverless technology to his already awesome line of electric vehicles.
Google is the poster company for auto-piloted vehicles, a project that is already in testing on open roadways and has the entire auto industry buzzing. In an article describing the experience of riding in an auto-piloted car, Forbes’ Joann Muller writes, “The car we were riding in was a white Lexus RX450h outfitted with a $65,000 laser sensor on the roof, and other gear that included radar sensors in the front and rear bumpers, a high-def camera looking out from the windshield, and another looking inward at the passengers…On the instrument panel, a graphic depicted each of the cars around us as a white rectangle and tracked its movement relative to ours.”
Once you get over the initial shock and horror of allowing the car to merge onto the freeway at 65 mph without your help, the idea of riding in a self-piloted vehicle starts to sound cool. Eventually, you could take a road trip to catch up on some reading, safely send a text, or perhaps even sleep. The only imperfection would be that you’re still flinging pollution into the atmosphere. But that would change with an autonomous Tesla that runs on electricity.
“I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self-driving,” Musk said in an interview. “Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.” As Engadget reports, “a hidden configuration page in current Tesla vehicles’ digital control panel reveals some additional features, including Blind Spot Detection, Adaptive Cruise and Lane Departure Warning. Though currently disabled, each could indicate plans to add automation features to the all-electric car.
The biggest hurdle, of course, is money. “The problem with Google’s current approach is that the sensor system is too expensive,” Musk said. “It’s better to have an optical system, basically cameras with software that is able to figure out what’s going on just by looking at things.”
If anyone can find a way to squeeze more tech into a car for less money, however, it’s Tesla. The company’s Model S sedan has a $69,900 base price, a far cry from The Roadster, the company’s first offering, which started at $109,000. The goal, according to Musk, is to offer a model for about $30,000 within a few years.