While Tesla’s Vice President of Vehicle Programs, Jerome Guillen, is working on the automaker’s all-electric heavy truck program, Tesla Semi, CEO Elon Musk made rare comments about the vehicle and more especially, its autonomous driving capacity.
When Musk first announced the Tesla Semi program in his ‘Master Plan Part Deux’, he hinted that a driver, or at least an “operator”, would still be required:
“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.”
With the recent introduction of self-driving capable hardware in its passenger cars, Musk said that all of Tesla’s future vehicles will also be equipped with self-driving capable hardware – but the level of autonomy can still vary.
During an interview with CNBC and Ron Baron last week, Musk said that drivers in ‘Tesla Semi’ trucks will still be needed behind the wheel and that the system will at first only run for safety and in order to gather data:
“I think it’ll actually be a big safety improvement because you get a lot of accidents when drivers are tired behind the wheel,”
The data will be used to convince regulators that the system is safe and it could be used for complete autonomy, but he added that it will still be “a few years” before it happens:
“It’ll be a few years after trucks can self drive before regulators have seen enough data to feel comfortable not having a driver in the car,”
It’s not unlike the application Uber’s Otto aims to have with its own autonomous truck system demonstrated with its autonomous beer run with Budweiser last month.
Musk added that the role of a truck driver would then gradually change to more of a “fleet manager” as the logistical tasks around truck driving are being automated, which would explain his previous comment about the Tesla Semi being “really fun to operate”:
“I think the role of driver will sort of translate to fleet manager. I think that’s a more interesting job than driving one.”
Tesla expects that its level 5 self-driving software will be ready around the end of 2017. Musk also said earlier this year that he expects Tesla Semi, among the other vehicle programs announced in his Master Plan Part Deux, to be unveiled within the next 6 to 9 months and to enter production within the next 2 to 3 years.