Tesla’s CTO on autonomous vehicle tech: inevitable, transformational & already here

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.