Tesla’s Self-Driving Technology for Trucks to be Tested in Nevada

Image Source: Youtube

Image Source: Youtube

So much for Tesla’s doomsaying about artificial intelligence. Tesla’s now developing a semi-truck equipped with the same technology as their self-driving cars. In a recent report by Reuters, it was mentioned that Tesla is developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck. The truck is meant to follow a leading vehicle as it moves in groups or “platoons.” Tesla is a leader in the development and manufacturing of autonomous driving vehicles.

According to the report, the information came from an email discussion that speaks of potential road tests with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzales also told Reuters that they’re meeting with California officials this Wednesday to talk about Tesla’s self-driving trucks. There are plans for the technology to be unveiled next month and is moving on towards real-life testing. This could pose as a serious competition against other commercial transport companies such as Alphabet (Google) Inc’s Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc.

A.I. Trucks

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The plan to create these trucks was announced a year ago. The original goal was to create heavy electric trucks. Musk tweeted around April that they will be revealed in September. He also made the same announcement during the annual shareholder meeting last June but has not told anyone if the trucks could drive themselves.

There are two prototypes in existence according to the email exchange between Tesla and Nevada DMV. Nasser Zamani, a Tesla regulatory official, wrote that the plan to test them is to make sure that the trucks can operate continuously within Nevada and California in a self-driving mode. As of now, there have been no such tests conducted by any company within Nevada and Mr. Zamani has been inquiring for a testing license.

Ms. Gonzales told Reuters that they don’t have any idea as to what level of autonomy those trucks have. Tesla didn’t comment on the matter when Reuters asked and the Nevada DMV has declined to make any more comments on the matter.

The State Of Technology

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There are already other companies working on similar technologies using long-haul trucks. There have also been efforts to develop the A.I. to drive in formation with the automated trucks following the ones in front of them. The report cites that if successful it could lessen the need for drivers. The report cites companies such as Peloton Technology, which is in a collaboration with some truck makers, like Volvo. They also cited Waymo earlier, who partnered with Honda last year to explore autonomous car tech. Waymo has also been reported to have already started testing in the US.

The report goes on to say that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, doubts that they can deliver the needs for an electric long-haul truck, though it doesn’t mention why.

The thing about electric trucks is that the battery needed for the trucks to be able to travel across greater distances is what’s limiting the idea from being economically feasible. According to Venkat Viswanathan, a battery researcher from Carnegie Mellon University, also said that the battery needed to compete with diesel trucks is so big the battery itself becomes the truck’s cargo. Diesel trucks can travel up to 500 miles on a single full tank while an electric truck can travel only up to about 80 miles on a full charge.

If Tesla succeeds in finding a way to increase battery life or battery capacity without needing to increase the battery’s size then there’s no doubt that they’ll probably win the technology race. But even if they succeed to manage to get ahead they would also need to worry about other things like disposal of broken batteries, advertising to trucking companies, facing criticism from drivers who could possibly lose their jobs to what essentially is a robot on wheels, and their CEO’s much speculated robot takeover.