A Reuters report says that electric truck prototypes in California and Nevada will try "platooning".
As it turns out, passenger cars won't be the only mode of transportation that Tesla wants to give autonomous capabilities. In fact, the company aims to start testing its electric truck prototypes with autonomous technology in Nevada, according to Reuters who cite discussions between Tesla and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles in their report.
Plans for an electric truck were first announced in 2016 when the company CEO Elon Musk indicated in April that the truck will be unveiled in September 2017. Reuters points out that Musk did not mention any plans for autonomous capabilities at the time, but Tesla had hinted at electric trucks when it announced its "Master Plan Part Deux."
"In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicles needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport," the company said in its 'Master Plan". "Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate."
According to Reuters, Tesla wants to experiment with "platooning", where several autonomous trucks (some without drivers) follow a lead truck on a highway using autonomous driving technology. This technique is, basically, allowing trucks to travel in small groups. This could create some aerodynamic benefits for the following trucks and permit drivers in the group to switch to a "follow" mode that could not be accomplished with human drivers tailgating each other.
In this platoon mode, all the trucks would communicate to stay close, taking directions from the leading truck and reacting accordingly.
In theory, the benefit of platooning is to allow one driver to drive the leading truck and to have driverless trucks follow – therefore, saving on paid professional drivers.
"To ensure 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 officer Nasser Zamani said in an email seen by Reuters, addressed to the Nevada DMV.
Tesla did not give an exact time frame for beginning the test of driverless trucks in a platoon configuration. However, testing behind platooning technology has been mentioned by a number of truck manufacturers who are also looking into autonomous features.
The Tesla Semi truck will still be in concept form when it is revealed next month, but it remains to be seen what autonomous capabilities this concept and current prototypes feature.
A version of the Autopilot driver assist system is almost a given when you consider that Tesla already has all the hardware and software to make this happen. However, the company might take it one step further by giving the big rig some more advanced autonomous capabilities.
Skeptics of autonomous trucks have cautioned that, regulatory issues aside, autonomous driving technology needs to mature a bit before people will accept trucks without drivers in them. Platooning, with a lead truck driven by a driver, seems a logical step in that direction.
Watch the video to see Elon Musk's TED 2017 full interview about the new feature!