The next big thing for Tesla

US elec­tric car maker de­vel­op­ing self-driv­ing tech for semi-truck, wants to test in Ne­vada

Global Times - Weekend - - AUTO - Reuters – Global Times

Tesla Inc is de­vel­op­ing a long­haul, elec­tric semi-truck that can drive it­self and move in “pla­toons” that au­to­mat­i­cally fol­low a lead ve­hi­cle, and is get­ting closer to test­ing a pro­to­type, ac­cord­ing to an e-mail dis­cus­sion of po­ten­tial road tests be­tween the car com­pany and the Ne­vada Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles (DMV).

Mean­while, Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials al­ready met with Tesla to talk about the com­pany’s ef­forts with au­ton­o­mous trucks, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

The cor­re­spon­dence and meet­ing show that Tesla is putting self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy into the elec­tric truck it has said it plans to un­veil in Septem­ber, and is ad­vanc­ing to­ward real-life tests, po­ten­tially mov­ing it for­ward in a highly com­pet­i­tive area of com­mer­cial trans­port also be­ing pur­sued by Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc and Al­pha­bet Inc’s Waymo.

After an­nounc­ing in­ten­tions a year ago to pro­duce a heavy-duty elec­tric truck, Musk tweeted in April that the semi-truck would be re­vealed in Septem­ber, and re­peated that com­mit­ment at the com­pany’s an­nual share­holder meet­ing in June, but he has never men­tioned any au­tonomous­driv­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Tesla has been a leader in de­vel­op­ing self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy for its lux­ury cars, in­clud­ing the lower-priced Model 3, which it is be­gin­ning to man­u­fac­ture.

Sev­eral Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing au­ton­o­mous driv­ing tech­nol­ogy are work­ing on long-haul trucks.

They see the in­dus­try as a prime early mar­ket for the tech­nol­ogy, cit­ing the rel­a­tively con­sis­tent speeds and lit­tle cross-traf­fic trucks face on in­ter­state high­ways and the ben­e­fits of al­low­ing driv­ers to rest while trucks travel.

Some com­pa­nies also are work­ing on tech­nol­ogy for “pla­toon­ing”, a driv­ing for­ma­tion where trucks fol­low one an­other closely.

If trucks at the back of the for­ma­tion were able to au­to­mat­i­cally fol­low a lead ve­hi­cle, that could cut the need for driv­ers.

Sil­i­con Val­ley start-up Pelo­ton Tech­nol­ogy, for ex­am­ple, is work­ing with sev­eral truck mak­ers in­clud­ing Volvo on its pla­toon­ing sys­tem, which it sees as a pre­cur­sor to au­ton­omy.

Pro­to­type tests

An e-mail ex­change in May and June be­tween Tesla and Ne­vada DMV rep­re­sen­ta­tives in­cluded an agenda for a June 16 meet­ing, along with the Ne­vada Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, to dis­cuss test­ing of two pro­to­type trucks in Ne­vada, ac­cord­ing to the ex­change seen by Reuters.

“To in­sure we are on the same page, our pri­mary goal is the abil­ity to op­er­ate our pro­to­type test trucks in a con­tin­u­ous man­ner across the state line and within the States of Ne­vada and Cal­i­for­nia in a pla­toon­ing and/ or Au­ton­o­mous mode with­out hav­ing a per­son in the ve­hi­cle,” Tesla reg­u­la­tory of­fi­cial Nasser Za­mani wrote to Ne­vada DMV of­fi­cial April San­born. He made no ref­er­ence to any dates for po­ten­tial road tests.

No com­pa­nies yet have tested self­driv­ing trucks in Ne­vada with­out a per­son in the cab.

On July 10, Za­mani in­quired fur­ther to the Ne­vada DMV about terms for a test­ing li­cense, an e-mail seen by Reuters shows.

Cal­i­for­nia DMV spokes­woman Gon­za­lez said that the DMV was not aware of the level of au­ton­omy in the trucks.

Tesla de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter, re­fer­ring Reuters to the pre­vi­ous state­ments by Musk, who has dis­cussed the truck in tweets and at the an­nual share­holder meet­ing. Skep­tics

Musk has said that po­ten­tial cus­tomers are ea­ger to get a Tesla elec­tric long-haul truck, but he faces doubt that the com­pany can de­liver.

While es­tab­lished truck­ing com­pa­nies and truck man­u­fac­tur­ing start-ups have poured re­sources into elec­tri­fy­ing lo­cal pack­age de­liv­ery fleets, bat­tery range lim­i­ta­tions have largely kept the in­dus­try from mak­ing elec­tric trucks that travel across swaths of the coun­try.

Lithium-ion bat­tery re­searcher Venkat Viswanathan of Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity said elec­tric long-haul truck­ing is not eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble yet.

“Your cargo es­sen­tially be­comes the bat­tery,” Viswanathan said of the mas­sive bat­ter­ies that would be needed to make range com­pet­i­tive with diesel.

Diesel trucks used for cross-coun­try hauls by United Par­cel Ser­vice Inc (UPS) can travel up to 500 miles on a sin­gle tank, ac­cord­ing to Scott Phillippi, di­rec­tor of main­te­nance and en­gi­neer­ing for in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions of UPS. By com­par­i­son, the com­pany’s elec­tric lo­cal pack­age de­liv­ery trucks travel up to 80 miles on a full charge.

Photo: CFP

A test driver re­moves his hands from the steer­ing wheel of a Tesla Mo­tors Inc Model S elec­tric au­to­mo­bile fit­ted with self driv­ing tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­oped by Robert Bosch GmbH, dur­ing the Bosch mo­bil­ity ex­pe­ri­ence in Boxberg, Ger­many.

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