Elon Musk says Tesla ‘very close' to self-driving cars

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Tesla is “very close” to bringing its self-driving car tech to the next level, chief executive Elon Musk said Thursday.

In remarks made via video message at the opening of Shanghai’s annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference, Musk said that he is “confident” that Tesla will achieve “the basic functionality for level 5 autonomy” this year, meaning that vehicles will be able to navigate roads without any driver input.

The distinction would continue to put Tesla at the forefront of the autonomous driving industry, a space where it is competing with Uber and Alphabet-owned Waymo, who are both investing billions of dollars in self-driving efforts.

Tesla currently builds cars with an Autopilot driver-assistance system, which helps Tesla drivers steer, accelerate and brake automatically in their lane, but asks them to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla has been criticized for the name of its Autopilot tech, with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) calling it “an inherently misleading name” because the cars cannot actually fully drive themselves.

Tesla Autopilot has been involved in five fatal crashes since 2016, including a grisly accident in Mountain View, Calif., just 15 minutes away from the company’s headquarters, which left the driver dead after his Model X hit a highway divider.

Musk also said Thursday that Tesla is also developing new heat-projection or cooling systems to enable more advanced computers in its cars.