The head football coach at my high school had a number of aphorisms for which he was famous. Among these was “There’s no rest for the wicked and the good don’t need no rest.”
Public opinion is divided as to which of these two camps Elon Musk falls into, but one thing is clear: he doesn’t seem to slow down for a minute. Whether his perpetual motion is denied respite by iniquity or that he is eternally energized by his virtuous love of the sport is fodder for another conversation. Whatever it is that drives him, he just doesn’t stop.
What’s He Up to Now?
A better question might be what’s he not up to? His SpaceX division is about to launch a supercomputer to the international space station that may one day help future manned missions to Mars. He is busy changing the face of, of all things, the roofing trade with his revolutionary solar panels. He’s also in the middle of setting the electric car industry on its ear with the release of the Tesla Model 3. Most would think that was plenty but, no, not for Elon Musk.
A series of leaked emails shows yet another platter in his cadre of spinning plates. Apparently, Tesla is in talks with the Nevada state government to gain permission to test fully electric, autonomous semi trucks on its desert highways.
Musk has expressed an interest in performing tests where multiple trucks will drive in a “platoon formation.” This formation involves a single truck taking the lead with other trucks falling in line behind and imitating the behavior of the leader. With such an arrangement, it is possible that, in the future, only the lead truck would need a driver.
“Platooning” is not a new idea. A similar test was carried out more than a year ago by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The test showed the potential of increased safety, and extended battery range as the following trucks experienced reduced wind resistance. Finding ways to extend range may be the largest obstacle preventing the broad implementation of electric trucks. Venkat Viswanathan of Carnegie Mellon University says that long-haul electric trucks are not yet economically feasible as current technology requires that more cargo space be taken up by battery than payload.
First One to the Finish Could Earn a Big Payday
Whether the hurdles facing an all-electric truck can be surmounted or not, an operational semi with at least some level of autonomy would be revolutionary to the trucking industry. Long-haul trucking is characterized by endless miles of open road monotony. In these conditions, human drivers can succumb to mental fatigue and make mistakes. These errors could be all but eliminated via autonomous technology. This alone would make the institution of such technology a profitable venture. If the innovation could be taken further and drivers could be removed from trucks in the rear of the platoon, the financial upside would be considerable. If anyone is poised to cause this level of disruption to an industry, surely it’s Elon Musk.