After proving its force in the world of electric cars, Tesla is now working on a long-haul, electric semi-truck that can drive on its own on public roads and move in a convoy that follows a lead vehicle. The project is reported to be close to the stage of testing a prototype. The same was reported based on an email discussion of potential road tests between Tesla and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), seen by Reuters. Meanwhile, California officials are meeting with Tesla on Wednesday "to talk about Tesla's efforts with autonomous trucks," state DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez told 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 autonomous-driving 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 startup Peloton Technology, for example, is working with several truck makers including Volvo on its platooning system, which it sees as a precursor to autonomy. Driving in formation behind each other also reduces the aerodynamic drag for the trucks following the lead vehicle and hence can increase the range of these electric trucks.
An email 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.
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. Nevada officials confirmed the meeting with Tesla had occurred and said that Tesla had not applied for a license so far. They declined to comment further.