From Elon Musk 's perspective, it's not a question of whether or not autonomous-drive vehicles will become a fixture on roads and highways.
Instead, the issue at hand is what will happen to the millions of vehicles currently on the road, that are being driven by people who are making decisions about steering, accelerating and stopping.
"People may outlaw driving cars because it's too dangerous," the Tesla (TSLA) CEO said Tuesday. "You can't have a person driving a 2-ton death machine."
Musk's prediction came during a tech conference in San Jose, California, where he talked about the future of autonomous-drive vehicles and Tesla's plans to develop them.
"People see us as the leader of electric cars, but we want to be the leader of autonomous-drive vehicles," he said.
A few hours after his initial comments, Musk took to Twitter to clarify.
Tesla is developing and plans to implement autopilot technology in its vehicles within the next couple of years. While the company has not outlined specifics of how its cars will operate in autopilot mode, most expect the technology will allow drivers the opportunity to have the vehicle control steering and speed in certain environments, such as highways.
Autopilot technology is being developed by a number of automakers and suppliers, and various versions are expected to be incorporated into new vehicles starting in 2017 or 2018. As for fully autonomous-drive vehicles, most in the auto industry forecast that conversion will not happen until 2030 or 2035 at the earliest.
"[Regulators] will want to see a large amount of statistical proof that it's not going to be as safe as a person driving a car, but much safer," Musk said.
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Part of making sure autonomous-drive cars are safe is ensuring they cannot be hacked. Musk said making sure Tesla vehicles are never hit with a systemwide hack is a primary focus of engineers at the electric vehicle maker.
"What we spend most of our time doing is making sure there is not a multicar hack," he said.
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