Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in April that the company is working on pushing a long-haul electric semi truck to market, which is set to be formally revealed in September. Now, Reuters has viewed e-mail correspondence between Tesla and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles that indicate that the company has discussed testing semi trucks on the state’s roads.
The Reuters report also mentioned that the semis would be outfitted with autonomous functions, so they could traverse the nation’s highways without a driver in the front seat. The e-mails seemed to indicate that Tesla’s semis would “platoon,” that is, drive in a formation such that a number of trucks could follow a lead vehicle. It's unclear whether the lead vehicle would have a driver, or operate autonomously with a person in the front seat to monitor safety.
The idea of “platooning” autonomous semis is an old one. More than a year ago, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment held an autonomous truck platooning demo that involved automakers such as DAF Trucks, Daimler, IVECO, MAN, Scania, and Volvo. The advantages of platooning is that it's theoretically safer—if the lead truck slows down, the rest automatically follow. It also offers most of the trucks decreased wind resistance, which could help increase an EV semi's range—a major concern given the weight freight companies load semis with. Of course, there are social ramifications too. Platooning reduces the number of drivers that a shipping company would have to employ.