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Tesla Semi-Truck Will Be Self-Driving, May Test in Nevada, Report Says

Tesla allegedly wants its trucks to drive in automated "platoons."

Tesla’s promised electric semi truck will be autonomous, and will be designed to drive in “platoons” in which a line of trucks follow a lead vehicle, according to Reuters.

Citing an email exchange, the news service claims Tesla is close to testing a prototype autonomous truck, and is already in talks with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles about testing it on public roads in the Silver State. Nevada is one of a handful of states that explicitly allows autonomous-vehicle testing, and also happens to be home to Tesla’s battery “Gigafactory.”

In addition, a California DMV spokesperson told Reuters that officials were meeting with Tesla “to talk about Tesla’s efforts with autonomous trucks.” California also allows testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads, but the rules include a weight cap of 10,000 pounds, excluding large commercial trucks. Tesla submitted comments to the California DMV arguing against this cap earlier this year.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk first mentioned the electric semi truck in his updated “Master Plan” last year, and announced in April that the truck would be unveiled in September. The email conversations with Nevada officials cited by Reuters occurred in May and June, and include mention of a June 16 meeting to discuss testing of two prototype autonomous trucks. Nevada officials confirmed the meeting occurred, but said Tesla had not applied for a testing license.

Musk has never publicly mentioned autonomous-driving capability for the semi truck, but Tesla is developing self-driving cars. Musk has primarily discussed autonomous driving in the context of a ride-sharing service that would allow Tesla owners to rent out their cars to passengers when they aren’t needed.

Other companies are already exploring self-driving trucks. Uber operates a fleet of prototypes, although the company’s autonomous-driving program has become embroiled in a legal battle with Waymo over alleged stolen trade secrets. Waymo and Amazon have also expressed interest in autonomous trucks.

While Tesla has pulled off the seemingly impossible before, an autonomous electric semi truck adds a new host of challenges. Achieving the range necessary for long-haul trucking will be difficult, and automation means butting heads with professional truck drivers and their considerable lobbying power.