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Tesla to develop autonomous vehicles

The Tesla Model S has been a surprise hit in the US and the company is hoping to repeat the success in Europe.

It may be breaking new technological ground and changing the average consumer's perception of electric vehicles, but when it comes to the latest active driver aids and autonomous features, Tesla is still lagging behind its gasoline-powered rivals. But all of that is about to change.

There is little doubt that at the end of 2013 Elton Musk and the company he co-founded just 10 years ago, Tesla, will be held aloft and celebrated as one of the big tech success stories of the year and potentially one of the most crucial in raising the profile and desirability of cars that don't require gasoline to move backwards or forwards.

However, while the Model S can compete with the best that Audi, Mercedes or BMW has to offer in terms of cabin space, build quality, ride comfort or speed, it is still somewhat lagging behind in other technological areas. Indeed a number of the features drivers in the $70,000 executive car category take for granted are suspicious by their absence in the Tesla. The main reason for this is that all modern active safety and driver aid features require electricity to make them work.

In a traditional car, that's not a problem. The dedicated battery that provides the power for these features is constantly charged by the car's gasoline or diesel engine. However, in an all-electric car, everything that draws power from the battery other than the engine will limit the vehicle's range.

But all of that is set to change. Tesla has published a job ad on its website looking for an autonomous driving expert. Specifically, the company seeks an Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Controls Engineer with at least five years' experience in areas including radar, ultrasonic and camera sensors, whose job it will be to develop Tesla's strategies for fully automated driving.

Of course, companies like Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo have been developing their autonomous driving technologies for longer than Tesla has been in existence but even that shouldn't prove too significant an obstacle. A number of the major players in the sector, such as Bosch and Continental have gained their position from developing and then licensing their technologies to other car companies that don't have the requisite research and development budgets to create systems in-house.

Still, the successful applicant will have a tough job on his or her hands as Nissan, Audi, BMW and Volvo have all confirmed that they will be in a position to launch fully autonomous vehicles before the end of this decade.

In its August report on the future of autonomous driving, ABI Research forecast that the first affordable fully self-driving cars are on track to arrive in 2020 and that by 2032, 10 million fully-autonomous new cars will be sold in North America alone every year. We'll have to wait and see how many of those 10 million are Teslas.