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Elon Musk says Tesla far ahead of other automakers in race to full self-driving tech

by Justin King

The executive is more excited about the company's "Blade Runner" pickup truck, however.

Elon Musk is apparently confident that Tesla's Autopilot technology is much closer to achieving general self-driving capability than any other automaker.

Speaking to Recode, the executive argued that it is fairly easy to make things work in one particular city "by special-casing it." It is much more challenging to create a system that works in different countries, with different road signs and traffic behavior.

"You really have to have a generalized solution," he said. "And best to my knowledge, no one has a good generalized solution ... and I think no one is likely to achieve a generalized solution to self-driving before Tesla. I could be surprised, but ... "

Tesla last year brought in new leadership to the Autopilot team, hiring an AI expert to work alongside a veteran chip designer to create a system that will be capable of full self-driving. The chips are expected to be ready next year in Autopilot HW3, which will be available as a drop-in upgrade for all HW2 cars built in the past few years.

The company has boldly split from rivals by eschewing lidar in favor of advanced neural network algorithms that build situational awareness from eight cameras supplemented by radar.

"The car needs to drive better than a human driver using the same inputs as a human driver. Eyes are basically just cameras," Musk says. "A fish eagle can see a fish from far away and take into account the refractive index of the water, dive down and get the fish from far away. There's no question that image-recognition neural nets and cameras, you can be superhuman at driving with just cameras."

The executive may be enthusiastic about fully autonomous cars but he is most excited about Tesla's upcoming pickup truck. The latest comments suggest the production version will retain the wild styling of the concept teaser (pictured).

"I can't talk about the details, but it's gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, 'Blade Runner' pickup truck," Musk said. "It's gonna be awesome, it's gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It's like, oh, it's great."

The ambitious entrepreneur has also spent at least nine years thinking about a supersonic VTOL electric jet, but admits that "my head would definitely explode" if he added that project to his plate right now.