Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been teasing an electric semi truck for a while now, ahead of an official unveiling this fall. But a report in Reuters adds a new, if somewhat unsurprising, wrinkle to the mix: the Tesla big rig is probably going to have self-driving capabilities.
Reuters has seen emails between Tesla and the Nevada DMV where the two sides discussed “potential road tests” of the truck’s self-driving capabilities. The information also apparently describes Tesla’s desire to create long-haul electric semis that can drive themselves in “platoons,” potentially following behind a lead truck piloted by a human driver.
The idea that Tesla is working on incorporating self-driving technology into its upcoming semi truck falls in line with how aggressive the company has been at building the same tech into its consumer cars. Tesla offers semi-autonomous features on all of its current models in the form of Autopilot, which costs an additional $5,000 at the time of purchase. It also offers a $3,000 “full self-driving” option, which the company says will be activated once the software is ready. (Tesla claims that all of its cars are already equipped with the hardware necessary for full autonomy.)
What is surprising is that Tesla appears ready to test this technology. The state of Nevada is a likely partner, as it’s one of the few in the country that actually gives out licenses for autonomous vehicle testing. It was also the first state to allow self-driving big rigs to test in 2015 when Daimler acquired two AV licenses for its own Freightliner Inspiration Truck. Volvo is working on adding autonomous capabilities to its own trucking fleet, too.
Autonomy is also a common theme for the Silicon Valley companies that have dipped into the trucking world. In 2016, Uber acquired self-driving truck company Otto, which was led by a former high-profile employee of Google’s own self-driving project. (That employee is now currently at the center of a legal battle between Google’s parent company and Uber.) And Waymo, the company that blossomed out of Google’s self-driving car project, is working on its own self-driving truck program.
Tesla is planning an official reveal of the semi truck in September, so that’s when we’ll likely learn just how far the company wants to push this new part of its self-driving ambitions.