Elon Musk is a man who likes to think big. Not only has he done the impossible twice already (launch a private space company and create a successful electric car business), he also wants to stop millions of people dying every year in road traffic accidents.
Musk has been pushing hard for more autonomous tech in the car industry. The Model S began implementing highway cruising technology nearly four years ago, and since then the autonomous systems on Tesla’s cars have been regularly updated. But he’s received some significant pushback from the industry after claiming that he’ll have a level 5 autonomous vehicle on the roads by 2018. Ostensibly, his competitors are arguing that this will put passengers and risk and that it’s better to wait until the 2020s for the technology to mature. But the real reason probably has more to do with the fact that they know that Musk is lightyears ahead of them and will probably grab even more market share going forward.
Now Morgan Stanley has come out with a report which suggests that the upcoming “mainstream” car from Tesla will be more than ten times safer than cars already out there on the road. Ten times sounds like a lot, but it’s also a number we’ve come to expect from a man like Musk who only seems capable of thinking in exponential terms.
The man behind the report, Adam Jones, hinted that he expected that the Model 3 would include both “hardware and software” updates to make good on its safety claims. But it’s unlikely that the “hardware” component will be providing the lion’s share of the improvement. The “ten times” claim also sound suspiciously similar to estimates from Tesla and the rest of the industry that autonomous tech will make cars 90 percent safer. And given that Musk has hinted that full autonomy will be arriving in 2018, the same year as the Model 3, we can only assume that the new mainstream car will drive itself.
That wouldn’t be a bad thing. At the moment, there are dozens of firms who serve clients who have been seriously injured in auto accidents. It’s a big business – and a necessary one, since so many people get hurt. But Musk is on the warpath, not only to deliver the world from fossil fuels but to also make accidents a thing of the past. People shouldn’t have to risk death every time they want to travel from A to B.
Is the estimated improvement in safety valid? Well, given the data that has already been generated by Tesla’s existing Autopilot technology, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.” Musk says that the chances of having an accident with the Autopilot system turned on are fifty percent lower than with it turned off. Even with the first version, he says, people were much safer allowing a machine to drive them down the highway. He says that airbags deployed 50 percent less often per mile driven by machine compared to human, which is why he’s so convinced that autonomous vehicles will deliver next-gen improvements in safety.