Musk made his comments at NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, Calif.
“We’ll take autonomous cars for granted in quite a short time,” Musk told an audience of several thousand, according to NVIDIA. “I almost view it as a solved problem. We know what to do, and we’ll be there in a few years.”
Musk has offered Bloomberg News a date for when Tesla's autonomous cars will hit the road: 2023.
The D series of Tesla's Model S Sedan was unveiled in October with some autopilot-like features, such as self-parking and a computer that reads speed-limit signs and can intervene to avoid a wreck, according to the Verge.
“I think we’ll be able to achieve true autonomous driving, where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination,” Musk told Bloomberg.
He said it would take several more years for regulators to approve autonomous vehicles for public use. “I want to make sure that it’s truly a lot safer than driving with a person,” Musk added. “The standard for fully autonomous driving is going to be much greater than for a person, because if it’s just equivalent that won’t be enough.”
Even then, Musk said Tuesday, the shift from human-operated vehicles to autonomous cars will be a gradual one, with more than 1 billion human-driven cars on the road globally and millions more built each year.
“It’s not going to all transition immediately,” Musk said. “It’ll take quite a while.”
But at a recent TED conference, the head of Google's self-driving project unveiled an even more ambitious timeline for getting automated cars on the road: 4½ years.
That, Chris Urmson said, according to the BBC, is when the executive's 11-year-old son is due to take his driving test. "My team are committed to making sure that doesn't happen," Urmson said.
Google's autonomous car, the BBC noted, "will have no steering wheel or conventional controls, although for early testing, extra controls will be fitted so one of Google's test drivers can take over if there is a problem." Such cars, Urmson said, can dramatically improve auto safety.
"Some 1.2 million people are killed on the roads around the world each year," he said, according to the BBC. "That number is equivalent to a jet falling out of the sky every day."
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.