Elon Musk envisions self-driving cars being taken to their logical conclusion: crashes eliminated and drivers outlawed. After all, "You don't want a person driving a two-ton death machine," says Musk. [UPDATE]
At the opening keynote of the NVIDIA GPU conference in San Jose, CA, Musk joined NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on stage after a long-winded talk about all the wonderful things its new processors and architectures are capable of.
NVIDIA is one of a few chipmakers that are breaking away from its core business and going all-in on making the chips that power both infotainment systems and advanced driver assistance systems. Tesla is already using the former in the Model S and the latter gave Musk an opportunity to talk about his vision of autonomous driving.
"It's much easier than people think," says Musk, outlining how most of the sensors and systems available right now can handle self-driving duties on the freeway, something Tesla showed off late last year with its AutoPilot features. "Once you're above 50 MPH it gets easier," Musk told the packed auditorium. "The set of possibilities are reduced." But the real innovation needs to happen in low-speed, urban areas, and that's where Musk sees the biggest revolutions taking place.
"[Self-driving cars are] going to become normal," he says. "It's like an elevator. We used to have elevator operators. The car is going to be just like that."
But it's not going to happen all at once. Musk compares the adoption of autonomous vehicles to electric cars, a slow transition that will take years.
"Autonomy is about what level of reliability and safety you want," Musk said. But regulators have to be on board, and Tesla's CEO maintains that once these systems are proven to be safer than humans, it will take two or three years for lawmakers to catch up and accept it – at a minimum.
When that happens, Musk maintains, "We'll take autonomous cars for granted in a short period of time. It's going to be the default thing and it's going to save a lot of lives."
And Tesla is working on much more elaborate systems, mentioning to the audience of developers that, "If anyone is working on autonomous cars, we'd love to have you work at Tesla."
Naturally, none of this is going to happen soon, and Musk still enjoys driving, saying that when he drives his P85D, "I always have it in Insane mode."
UPDATE 5:53 PM ET: Musk is backtracking a bit with a pair of tweets following his remarks: