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While Nissan and General Motors have sworn they will bring self-driving cars to market by 2020, Tesla Motors says it can happen much faster. We shouldn't be surprised, says Tesla Motor's Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel, since all of the technology that's needed, the sensors and processors, are already here.

Straubel spoke at Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy Project Symposium in early October and said he thinks autonomous vehicle technology, which the company prefers to call "autopilot," is inevitable and "transformational." It's going to "happen sooner than people think," he said during an onstage interview with Tesla investor Ira Ehrenpreis.

While self-driving cars may seem futuristic to some people, Straubel pointed out that similar systems - mostly auto pilot as a safety feature - are widely used in other transportation vehicles, including planes, ships and space ships. The auto industry has been slow to adopt the technology, but it is the safety angle that will be a key reason autopilot gets adopted, Straubel said.

Tesla has been taking the venture very seriously and has been hiring "a large team" that is integrating second-gen features into the Model S like voice recognition and remote software updates, Straubel said. CEO Elon Musk has been talking about assembling the right engineering team for developing an autopilot and Tesla is hiring. He thinks it can happen much faster than Nissan and GM do – three years from now, he expects some autopilot technology to be available inside Tesla's cars.
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