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“I wouldn’t say they’re a competitor.” – Elon Musk on Google self driving cars

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Elon Musk, heading two of the most futuristic companies on earth right now, recently shared his views on competitors working on self-driving cars at the Code Conference. And they are not too kind as Musk totally downplayed the competition from Google whereas acknowledged a direct competition from Apple.

But, at the same time, he also said that Apple might have missed an opportunity and become too late to enter the competition.

Last year in December, Tesla Motors had unveiled its plans to produce self-driving cars in competition with Google for which Musk was reportedly hiring staff personally to add to their autopilot team. Earlier this year, Musk had announced that Tesla cars will become fully autonomous in two years with the company.

At the Code Conference, when being asked about its competitors particularly Google, Elon Musk said,

Google’s done a great job of showing the potential of autonomous transport, but they’re not a car company. So they’d potentially license to other companies. I wouldn’t say they’re a competitor.

When asked about the potential competition from Apple, who is also said to be secretly working on self-driving cars, Musk agreed that the Cupertino giant could be a more direct competitor. However, he added that Apple could not possibly go into volume production before 2020 implying that it could be too late by then to give any tough competition to others.

I don’t think they’ll be volume production sooner than 2020. It’s a missed opportunity. There’s a dozen car companies of significance in the world, the most any company has is approximately 10% market share,

said Musk.

It is noteworthy that Tesla Motors has been working on a different technology than Google and other self-driving car companies, to bring self-driving capabilities to its cars.

Google, with all other companies, has based their autonomous cars on a laser technology known as LiDAR (light detection and ranging) which measures distance of cars from physical objects around their vicinity.

LiDAR can create a precise 3D map of the region surrounding the car with an accuracy of centimeters, and this has allowed Google to make an exceptionally fast progress on self-driving car.

However, according to Musk, LiDAR was too expensive and can be bypassed with the help of cheap sensors including simple cameras, radar (which uses radio waves to estimate distances to objects that are farther away), and ultrasound.

And this combination of sensors began to be offered to customers of Model S and Model X in October 2014. Later, Tesla remotely activated its Autopilot software over the air to all its Tesla cars.

The company revealed that the over-the-air update system and always on Internet connection in Tesla Model S cars was serving a bigger purpose- and that is collecting millions of driving data from Tesla cars around the world when they were on Autopilot to help the company develop completely autonomous cars.

And this is where Tesla has got a massive edge over Google self-driving cars as it now has access to huge amount of real-life driving data from autopilot system running in its cars opposed to the limited data with Google from its limited number of prototype cars.

For instance, Tesla recently revealed that they had recorded over 47 million miles of autopilot driving data in 6 months. In comparison, Google had collected 1.5 miles data by that time in 6 years.! Going by this information, it certainly does not come as a surprise that Musk does not think Google as a competitor.

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