Love or hate Tesla Motors (NSDQ:TSLA) and its CEO Elon Musk, it's hard to deny that he's ahead of the curve when it comes to developing new cars.
So when Musk says self-driving or autonomous technology is the next logical step in the evolution of the car, you take notice.
According to Bloomberg, Musk is considering the potential of driverless technology for Tesla's vehicles, and has even spoken with Google about it.
Google's own self-driving fleet of cars have hit headlines worldwide over the last few years, the technology now advanced enough that some states have legislation in place for the cars to drive without drivers, even though no production model is currently available.
Musk says he prefers the term 'autopilot' to self-driving, though.
"I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self- driving," he said in an interview.
"Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars." He added, "Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do."
He hasn't made it overly clear that Tesla is working on such a system--with or without Google--but it's certainly a possibility. “I think Tesla will most likely develop its own autopilot system for the car... However, it is also possible that we do something jointly with Google" he said in an email to Bloomberg.
Affordable electric cars: More important
At the same time, it's unlikely to appear any time soon. He later tweeted, "Creating an autopilot for cars at Tesla is an important, but not yet top priority. Still a few years from production"
"Am a fan of Larry, Sergey & Google in general, but self-driving cars comments to Bloomberg were just off-the-cuff... No big announcement here."
If Tesla goes its own way with autonomous technology, it's because Musk prefers a more cost-effective camera-based system, rather than the LIDAR (effectively light-based radar) used by Google.
He deems the sensor system "too expensive", at a time when Tesla's priority is to bring down the cost of its electric cars to make them more accessible--a plan which also involves bringing a smaller, $30,000 electric sedan to the market in the next few years.
The company is also thought to be developing interim technologies like lane departure warning, blind spot detection and cruise control, as revealed on a Tesla Model S menu graphic.
The prospect of an autopilot mode on Tesla's products is certainly an interesting one--but not quite as interesting as the company's future product line...