Remember watching The Jetsons (or many other futuristic shows for that matter) and wanting to ride in a flying car? Though we may be far away from that perceived future, a similar future awaits. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently announced that within the next three years they will be working to produce a car capable of running on “auto-pilot.” The California-based company’s autonomous car would allow the driver to hand 90 percent of control over to the car. Germany’s Daimler AG and Japan’s Nissan have both said they hope to begin selling self-driving cars by the end of the decade.

Tesla announced recently that the self-driving car would be developed in-house using Tesla’s very own technology. This three-year timeline may be a bit ambitious than other companies’, but Tesla has now thrown in their proverbial ‘hat into the ring.’

Other than the obvious mechanic constraints, legal and safety issues must be overcome before ‘driverless’ cars are allowed on the road. European Union laws currently call for drivers to control their cars at all times.

This push towards autonomous operation has been seemingly entirely overseen by Musk himself. He has recently taken to Twitter saying:

@elonmusk: Intense effort underway at Tesla to develop a practical autopilot system for Model S,’ as well as, ‘Engineers interested in working on autonomous driving, please email Team will report directly to me.’

Self-driving cars, also referred to as “autonomous cars,” have been in the news quite a lot over the past couple of years, but no firm dates have been put down with regard to when they will be available on the consumer market. However, with the recent announcement, and Tesla’s track record for that matter, it looks like that may now be changing. Elon Musk made the somewhat surprising announcement during an interview with the British Financial Times.

Competition in the Auto Realm

Google has fitted out several cars with radar-like equipment that lets them navigate roads in California and Nevada. Google did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the status of its “driverless” car program. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law last year allowing the Mountain View-based internet giant to test its self-driving cars on the road.

Here is some more regarding the on this technology via Green Car Reports:

Musk refers to Tesla’s self-driving technology as an “autopilot,” calling a fully-autonomous car a “bridge too far” in the Financial Times interview. Drivers will reportedly be able to switch the system on and off, just like an airplane’s autopilot.

This could potentially allow Tesla to sidestep the many legal issues surrounding self-driving cars. So far, California and Nevada have legalized testing of these cars on public roads, but their status in other states is ambiguous at best.

In the race to put a self-driving car into production, Tesla’s main automotive rivals will be Mercedes and Nissan, both of which have pledged to put autonomous vehicles into production by 2020. Mercedes took its fully-autonomous S-Class prototype on a 60-mile trip in Germany last month. Nissan showed a prototype autonomous car based on the Leaf at its Nissan 360 event in Arizona.

Earlier this year, BMW predicted we’d have highly automated cars by 2020 and the fully automated variety by 2025. Most recently, Nissan committed to bring self-driving automobiles within the next three years as well. Musk says “it’s a bridge too far” to get to completely self-driving cars, but using a system as an “auto pilot” during extended drives makes senses. On jetliners, pilots put planes on autopilots for long drives, but take over the controls for riskier situations, like landings or takeoffs, or in poor flying conditions.

Though Musk says he doesn’t think that it makes sense to make a system that can take over driving completely. Despite Tesla’s success with the electric Model S sedan, the company still needs to build a model line to mass-produce the potential self-driving vehicle.