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May 7, 2013

Tesla talking with Google about 'autopilot' systems for cars

LOS ANGELES — Elon Musk, the California billionaire who leads Tesla Motors, said the electric-car maker is considering adding driverless technology to its vehicles and discussing the prospects for such systems with Google.

Musk, 41, said technologies that can take over for drivers are a logical step in the evolution of cars. He has talked with Google about the self-driving technology it's been developing, though he prefers to think of applications that are more like an airplane's autopilot system.

"I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self- driving," Musk 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."

Tesla, based in Palo Alto, is considering such technology as regulators and long-established automakers grapple with when and how it can be used to increase safety and driver convenience. Global automakers such as Nissan and government officials say fully autonomous vehicles may not reach dealer showrooms for a decade, twice as long as Google expects.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both investors in Tesla before its 2010 initial public offering, have been proponents, with their Mountain View-based company demonstrating a driverless fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids equipped with laser-radar devices mounted on the roofs.

Google's approach builds on a push for the driverless-car technology long pursued by the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which held vehicle competitions for carmakers and research labs. Anthony Levandowski, product manager for Google's self-driving car project, has said the company expects to release the technology within five years.

"The problem with Google's current approach is that the sensor system is too expensive," Musk said. "It's better to have an optical system, basically cameras with software that is able to figure out what's going on just by looking at things."

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