Elon Musk

Elon Musks speaking in 2015

Business magnate and inventor Elon Musk said at a conference yesterday that he is working on a secret project to solve the problem of urban transportation, Casey Williams reported for HuffPost Tech. Musk said it would be a self-driving vehicle that could take the place of buses, but that it’s  “not exactly a bus.”

Musk said this vehicle would bring people right to where they wanted to go, leading to speculation that it might be like a cross between Uber and regular buses.  Speaking at a transportation conference in Norway, Musk said his idea has the potential to eliminate the needs for typical public transportation, and would go a long way towards solving the urban traffic problem.

Marie Mawad, writing for Bloomberg, quoted Musk: ‘Gridlock is just a soul-destroying thing.’ And, there has been speculation about Tesla starting its own service with electric vehicles.

Autonomous Vehicles Already on the Road

Self-driving vehicles are being developed in cities around the world. Wageningen, a historic town in the central Netherlands, has been working on an autonomous electric shuttle bus, testing it earlier this year, according to Reuters. That bus only went 5 miles an hour, but Jan Willem van der Wiel called the test a “milestone.”

Lausanne, Switzerland, did a six-month trial of a self-driving bus that shuttled students and faculty from the metro station to various places on the campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Easy reports. And Zhengzhou, China has been testing an autonomous city bus that was able to drive as fast as 40 miles per hour on a 20 mile route connecting that city to Kaifeng, Alissa Walker wrote for Gizmodo.

An unidentified auto industry source told Reuters recently that Uber, the ride hailing service, has been shopping around to buy a fleet of self-driving cars. Uber’s largest expense is drivers, so it makes sense that they are looking to reduce costs by eliminating drivers from the equation, with autonomous cars.

Safety advocates have raised concerns about whether self-driving cars are ready to handle all types of weather conditions (for example, knowing where lanes are under snow and ice) and being able to recognize animals or pedestrians that might dart out into the road.

When Will Self-Driving Cars Hit the Market?

There have been varying estimates as to when autonomous vehicles will enter the market:

  • The Chinese company Baidu has said it will have self-driving cars on the market by 2018, and will soon start testing its vehicles in the United States, Mike Ramsey wrote for The Wall Street Journal.
  • Google has said it will have resolved all problems with the technology by 2020.
  • Jaguar has announced it will have its self-driving car on the market by 2024.
  • Navigant Research estimates that autonomous vehicles will comprise 75% of the purchases of all light-duty vehicles by 2035.
  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers believes that 75% of all vehicles will be autonomous by 2040.
  • Image by Steve Jurvetson, used under its Creative Commons license.