Musk Preps Tesla for Autonomous Cross-Country Road Trip

The world’s premier electric car company — Tesla — is getting in on the trend for cross-country automated vehicle adventures, following coast-to-coast excursions by commercial trucks and passenger cars.During a fourth-quarter earnings call on February 7, CEO Elon Musk said Tesla was planning to embark on a road trip across the US in a self-driving car within three to six months.

The company had previously announced plans for a coast-to-coast autonomous trek last year with a planned drive from Los Angeles to New York in a self-driving Model S or Model X.

“The upcoming autonomous coast-to-coast drive will showcase a major leap forward for our self-driving technology,” Musk wrote in a letter. “Additionally, an extensive overhaul of the underlying architecture of our software has now been completed, which has enabled a step-change improvement in the collection and analysis of data and fundamentally enhanced its machine-learning capabilities.”

Musk also noted in the letter that the company’s neural network, which expands as Tesla’s customer fleet grows, is able to collect and analyze more high-quality data than ever before, which will allow the company to rollout a series of new Autopilot features in 2018 and in the following years.

Earlier this week, Embark Technology, a startup developing self-driving trucks, announced it had completed a coast-to-coast, 2,400-mile journey from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla. test drive with a semi-autonomous truck.

The cross-country trek, part of a three-way partnership with the truck-leasing company Ryder and the appliance giant Electrolux, took five days, which the company said it thinks it could get down to two days.

Tesla, which has produced multiple models of electric vehicles for consumers, first announced plans to develop electric trucks in 2016, and Reuters recently obtained a document showing correspondence between Tesla and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles discussing road tests for a prototype long-haul autonomous vehicle truck.

In 2015, automotive technology specialist Delphi’s autonomous Audi arrived in New York City, nine days, 15 states, and 3,400 miles after leaving San Francisco — company officials said the vehicle was in fully automated mode for 99% of the drive.

On the other side of the world, Nissan announced plans to have its fully automated ride service on the road in Japan by the early 2020s — the plan is to start with a “public field test” for the Easy Ride service in Yokohama.

The public field test will take place in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama from March 5 to March 18.

Despite the public advances of advanced drive assisted driving (ADAS) systems and the high-profile cross-country self-driving vehicle trials, some in the industry are skeptical as to how soon fully autonomous vehicles are a common presence.

Speaking at this week’s Nissan Futures technology symposium in Singapore, Niels De Boer, program director at the Centre of Excellence For Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles at Nanyang Technological University, told Motoring that companies need to be “realistic” about their timelines.

“You make bold statements, but you really need to ask what do you mean by autonomous driving?” he asked. “Because a lot of these statements are made but they don’t talk about the level of maturity.”

De Boer said he doesn’t think widespread use of fully autonomous vehicle networks for another half century.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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