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Summary:

Tesla’s CTO is a visionary when it comes to auto tech, making an early bet on small format batteries to drive electric cars. He’s just as bullish on autonomous vehicle technology.

Tesla Model S Alpha Power Electronics, & CTO JB Straubel

Tesla CTO JB Straubel doesn’t waffle when it comes to his opinions on autonomous vehicle technology. At Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project Symposium this week, Straubel said that not only is autonomous vehicle technology, or “autopilot” as he described it “inevitable,” but it will be “transformational,” and all the technology that is needed — like sensors and processors — are already all here.

“It’s going to happen,” said Straubel in an onstage interview with Tesla investor Ira Ehrenpreis, adding “this will happen sooner than people think.” The technology will start with independent active safety systems in cars, and over time cars will have systems that take over the mundane and boring features of the car, explained Straubel.

Tesla CTO JB Straubel speaks at the launch of the Model S

Tesla CTO JB Straubel speaks at the launch of the Model S

Tesla has been investing a quite of bit of time into the technology and has been hiring “a large team,” said Straubel. Tesla has long maintained that it is trying to push the envelope of car technology, beyond just electrifying vehicles. The company has built bleeding edge tech features into its second-gen car the Model S like voice recognition, large in vehicle dashboards, and remote over-the-air software updates.

While this type of autonomous vehicle technology might seem futuristic, it’s actually widely used in all other vehicles, said Straubel. The auto industry has just been particularly slow moving to adopt it. Vehicles like planes, ships, and space ships all use auto pilot for safety reasons, and Straubel said “They didn’t do it because the pilot was bored; they did it because of safety.”

Safety is also the reason that personal cars need this technology. “People drivers are probably the least trained of all the different vehicle operators. If there is one place that it would be most relevant it would be in a car,” said Straubel.

  1. What is the incentive in the future to buy one autonomous car over the other? If it’s going to drive me 60% of the time, why do I care what it looks like? Why would any idiot buy a Tesla when they can get a toyota for half the price that does the exact same thing…drive you? People pick cars because of character, price, lifestyle, and mpg. If all we care about is mpg and safety, then all cars should be gray shapeless and boring vehicles that drive us. I love my truck, but I don’t want it to drive me. That’s the whole reason I bought it; so I can drive it.

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    1. @Nc7 Maybe because driving a car is not such a big deal to me as it is to you. I would rather spend that time doing nothing while my personal automobile drives me anywhere safely….

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      1. Agreed, on work commutes or even on a roadtrip I would like to spend that time doing nothing, I would care less what it looked like if I could take a nap and wake up in south Florida.

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    2. How about, “Why would any idiot buy a Rolex when they can get a casio for half the price?” – the answer is and has always been, status.

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    3. Product life-cycle.

      In the beginning stages, people will always pay a premium. As it becomes commonplace, it’ll drop in price as competition moves in.

      The customers in each phase play an important role. The early adopters help test and drive development of the product with their feedback. The high prices in the beginning also begin paying back the companies that were technically “in the red” due to high R&D costs for the innovative product.

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    4. If you want to drive, your car will still allow you to drive. It doesn’t say “Get out, I’ll drive.” So you still can do what you want to do, but I have an elderly mother whose eyesights and reflects are not that great. She can’t merge into lanes on busy highways. She got lost all the times because she was on the wrong lane and couldn’t make a turn in time.

      Then there are road conditions. Every year we hear about people going off roads, crashing into trees due to icy roads.

      Then there are teenagers. A couple of months ago, a bunch of teens drove at 90 mph in the city on a curved road and crashed. None survived.

      Someday the number of accidents on the road may be a dozen a year instead of millions. Oh, and speeding tickets, that may be a thing of the past too.

      We don’t just care about mpg and safety, and that’s why there are still stylish cars in all shapes and sizes and colors while focusing on safety and mpg. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

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  2. People drive cars like jerks. Americans are the biggest pill pushers on earth. Now they all driving around under some cloud of brain altering mood enhancer. Getting these dangerous idiots out of the driver seat and into the passenger seat can’t happen fast enough.

    For all the talk about firearms, there is 1000 times more bodily harm caused every day by criminally negligent car drivers, most of whom shouldn’t even have a license.

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