According to the experts full self driving capability for Tesla cars is still a few years away but many owners are purchasing autopilot now.
While Tesla cars (and others with auto braking technology) may be considered autonomous in some sense - in that the car determines whether it sees something and has the capability you’ve given it to decide to stop. This is considered a closed loop though as the car is only given the authority to make certain decisions.
When we think of the self driving cars of the future, we generally consider something called open loop autonomy. This is the ability of the car to take any decision without a human being required to intervene. While this technology exists it is still being intensively tested and scrutinized, and has in fact failed and caused deaths of humans.
The real issue is that there is a clear desire on the part of Tesla owners to have cars that relieve the human driver from having to pay attention to driving.
According to David Friedman, Director of Cars and Product Policy and Analysis for Consumers Union,
[We are] really excited about the potential for cars that can drive themselves. I mean just think of a world where it doesn't matter whether you have a disability, what your age is or what your driving capability is. You can have mobility and access all over your city or town. Plus, if you combine those self-driving cars with electric cars and car sharing, we could dramatically lower cost for consumers while increasing mobility and lowering emissions. So, the potential is amazing, but that word potential is important…
When I think of self-driving cars I kind of think about we have two possible futures with this technology -- in one future we have a utopia where we have better mobility. We effectively eliminate traffic crashes. We cut costs and have a great convenience feature for consumers, so they can get wherever they want to go whenever they want to go. That's the utopia situation.
The dystopian world is where we have self-driving cars that aren't safe, put people at risk that increase the amount we travel and increase the emissions we create and create a world where we're all basically locked into our cars instead of spending time with our family and friends.
It will be an interesting time when the fully self driving cars are on the roads in wide use.