Elon Musk's SpaceX is launching the world's most powerful rocket. The Tesla founder and CEO says the company is about to go through "manufacturing hell" to make delivery schedules for its new Tesla 3. Somehow, Musk says Tesla will offer Level 5 driving (so you can take a nap while your car drives you to and from work) within two years.
Is this the right time to begin developing a commercial truck fleet?
Tesla did not disclose many details about the project, after Musk tweeted in April that Tesla planned to design an all-electric commercial truck for an unveil in September, without describing whether it would be driverless or not. Following Musk's announcement, Reuters reported this week that Tesla was in negotiations with the Department of Motor Vehicles of the state of Nevada for permission to test a fleet of driverless heavy commercial trucks.
According to the report, Tesla is preparing to begin testing a prototype platoon of self-drive commercial trucks. The trucks will travel together, while a single vehicle will lead the fleet. Commercial trucks already use platooning by following one another to save fuel costs by reducing wind drag. However, it remains to be seen how connectivity and other technology resources shared between driverless trucks in a platoon could be used to improve their self-drive performance.
A Tesla spokesperson Driverless contacted would not offer details beyond what Reuters reported.
Tesla may or may not be able to pull it off, but if it is able to design and begin testing a driverless commercial test fleet as the company's cash flow dwindles amid its Model 3's production schedule, it will face technical challenges.
While the underlying cameras, sensors, mapping, neural network, and other technologies for driverless cars are roughly the same in trucks as they are for cars, a lot more of the tech is needed. This will require a lot more time and cash than what the company may have available, Anirudh Venkitaraman, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan, told Driverless.
Trucks are quite heavy to handle. Applying brakes and acceleration of such tonnage will require a complete revamp of the powertrain, for example. Among other things, commercial trucks will require a greater number of sensors compared to those that are used in cars. The sensors range as such must be much longer, which has remained a difficulty in driverless cars. This is because trucks have a much longer range of braking, which is but one of the engineering challenges that Tesla faces.
Still, paying for the "dude in the truck" represents a significant costs in commercial trucking, in reference to ex-Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick's now infamous comment about how Uber sought to save costs by launching driverless cars.
Tesla's plans to join the ranks of Waymo, Uber, and Daimler in its development of a driverless truck fleet may make sense in the long term as a reasonable investment, but in Tesla's current overly committed state, the timing may not be optimal.
Intel said it is designing a test fleet of Level 4 cars for deployment in Israel, the US, and Europe by the end of the year, as Intel completed its $15.3-billion purchase of Mobileye this week. The bulk of the development work for the fleet will take place at Israel-based Mobileye's headquarters in Tel Aviv, where Intel has merged the bulk of its driverless-related operations.