Following in the tyre tracks of Volvo, Uber, Google and Daimler, Tesla is moving into self-driving trucks, a market with a big future. 

 

Tesla is joining Volvo, Uber, Google and Daimler in the driver-free electric truck market. Founded by Elon Musk, the company will unveil the prototype of its first self-driving semi-truck in September, with testing due to begin in the USA before the end of the year, Les Echos reports.

 

The semi-truck prototype

 

Dubbed the Tesla Semi, it will be equipped with the same technologies used in the company’s semi-autonomous Model X and Model S cars, which means it can do all the braking, acceleration and steering for the driver.

The Tesla Semi will also be capable of driving in a convoy following a lead vehicle. This technique, which could lead to significant savings, was successfully trialled in the Netherlands last year.

 

Hot on the heels of Daimler and Uber

 

Tesla is not the first company to ponder the possibilities offered by a self-driving truck: Daimler road-tested a semi-autonomous computer-operated truck based on a system of cameras, radar and sensors in Germany back in 2014. It was then trialled in a convoy that travelled between Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Uber used a self-driving truck to successfully deliver 51,000 cans of beer in Nevada at the end of 2016, all with the collaboration of several former Google employees, who were working at the time for the start-up Otto, which Uber has since bought.

 

Substantial savings, with a downside

 

The reason why Silicon Valley’s mover and shakers are so interested in the digitised trucking market is that it is a potentially lucrative one. According to a 2016 study published by consulting firm PwC, convoys of first-generation self-driving semi-trucks could see transport costs cut by five percent and fuel costs by as much as 11 percent between now and 2020.

 The arrival of fully autonomous trucks, which is expected to happen by 2030, could yield savings of up to 30%. In its study, PwC pointed to annual savings of over €30,000 per HGV, a reduction that would mainly be attributable to the reduced need for drivers, who account for 40% of costs.

According to a June 2017 report published by the International Transport Forum, between 2 and 4.5 million US and European truck drivers would be at risk of losing their jobs between 2020 and 2030, equating to between 50 and 70 percent of the overall total of drivers. For the time being at least, American truckers are safe in their jobs, with US legislation preventing driverless vehicles from taking to the road, except in trials. Legislation governing self-driving cars is now under consideration in both the US and Europe, however.

 

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