Innovation

Report: Tesla autonomous semi-trucks will move in platoons, prototype coming soon

A recent Reuters report outlined some of Tesla's future plans for the trucking industry, including a new caravan feature to move multiple trucks as once.

Tesla vehicles are getting full autonomy sooner than you may think

Tesla is working on self-driving electric semi-trucks that can move in "platoons" behind a designated lead vehicle, Reuters reported this week. The firm is also close to finishing work on a prototype model that it plans to test in Nevada.

The information was noted in emails exchanged between the automaker and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) about potential road tests, Reuters reported. California DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez also confirmed in the report that the Golden State is also planning on talking with Tesla about its autonomous trucking efforts.

In an early 2017 TED talk, Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke of the firm's work on an electric semi-truck , and teased an image of what it would look like. At the time, Musk said that the truck would likely launch in September 2017, but that it wouldn't include any autonomous or driverless features.

SEE: Our autonomous future: How driverless cars will be the first robots we learn to trust (PDF download)

One of the most interesting autonomous features mentioned in the report is the ability of the trucks to platoon behind a lead vehicle, forming a caravan to their final destination. This type of technology has been seen by some as a forerunner to full autonomy, as it could allow for one human driver in the lead, with multiple autonomous trucks following behind him or her.

In his TED talk, Musk positioned the electric truck as one that truck drivers would want to drive, instead of a new, self-driving truck. The big challenge in convincing the long-haul trucking industry of the merits of electric trucks is proving they have equitable power for heavy loads.

"They think the truck doesn't have enough power or it doesn't have enough range, and then with the Tesla Semi we want to show that no, an electric truck actually can out-torque any diesel semi," Musk said in the talk. "And if you had a tug-of-war competition, the Tesla Semi will tug the diesel semi uphill."

If successful in its pursuits, Tesla could disrupt the truck manufacturers, the energy sector, and the drivers themselves. There are currently millions of truck drivers in the US and, as reported by The Guardian, there is a "strong undercurrent of denial" that automation and autonomous vehicles will replace any jobs.

Other Silicon Valley giants are going after trucking as well. Uber, for example, launched Uber Freight in the spring, and has since expanded it into six key markets in hopes of changing the way loads are selected and delivered.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Tesla is working on an autonomous, electric semi-truck that can move in platoons, with multiple trucks following a lead vehicle, Reuters reported.
  2. If successful, Tesla could impact truck makers and drivers, but also the energy industry as well.
  3. Other tech companies are targeting trucking, with firms like Uber investing in new freight initiatives that hope to upend the industry.

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Image: Image: TED/Tesla
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