Tesla gives self-driving trucking a boost

Tesla this week showcased an electric truck that will have some self-driving capabilities. Elon Musk unveiled a prototype for a battery-powered, nearly self-driving semi truck that the company said would prove more efficient and less costly to operate than the diesel trucks that now haul goods across the country.

Quoting from The NY Times:

The truck would be no less groundbreaking, claiming it would have a single-charge range of 500 miles, greater than many analysts had expected and enough to serve in many typical trucking routes. The truck can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in five seconds without a trailer, and in 20 seconds when carrying a maximum load of 80,000 pounds, less than a third of the time required for a diesel truck.

The truck will be less expensive to operate, in part because it has fewer components that require regular maintenance (no engine, transmission or drive shaft). Instead, the truck, called the Tesla Semi, is powered by a giant battery beneath the cab. It has two rear axles, each outfitted with two electric motors, one for each wheel. Its acceleration and uphill speeds will allow it to cover more distance in less time than diesel trucks.

As a result, Tesla is estimating it will cost $1.26 per mile to operate, compared with $1.51 a mile for a diesel truck. The cost can fall further — to 85 cents a mile, according to Tesla — if groups of trucks travel together in convoys, which reduces wind drag. “This beats rail,” Mr. Musk said.

Mr. Musk also said Tesla expects to begin producing the truck by the end of 2019.

As derived from reviewing the monthly articles in The Robot Report about fundings, acquisitions and IPOs, companies and investors are on pace to put just over $1 billion into self-driving and other trucking technologies. A few of those companies and their progress are shown below:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek just did an extensive story of Starsky Robotics and how coders and drivers are working together to create a new control-center approach to self-driving trucking. The article is worth reading because it explores how the industry – and its drivers – will change over the next few years.
  • Uber, embattled on almost all fronts, is continuing their self-driving truck effort  (Uber ATG) and demonstrated a truck driving 120 miles along Colorado highways with a trailer full of Budweiser.
  • Mercedes-Benz began displaying their driverless trucks and their incremental approach to full driverlessness by 2025.
  • Embark Trucking, a Silicon Valley startup, has been testing its self-driving technology as part of a three-way partnership with the Ryder and appliance giant Electrolux.

    “We are trying to get self-driving technology out on the road as fast as possible,” Embark chief executive, Alex Rodrigues, said. “Trucking needs self-driving and self-driving needs trucking.”

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