Tesla CEO Elon Musk has some bad news for country singers: the legendary occupation of the long-haul truck driver may soon be a thing of the past. Instead, the future of overground shipping may be controlled by autonomous trucks, guided to their destinations by “fleet managers” in remote locations.
Tesla announced its plans for autonomous semi trucks (as well as pickups) back in July, but Musk hasn’t said much about it since. That changed on Friday, when during a live phone interview on CNBC, he talked about the concept of autonomous overground shipping and how it may completely change the truck driver’s role.
“I think the role of [truck] driver will sort of translate to ‘fleet manager’,” Musk said. “I think that’s a more interesting job than driving one.”
Musk didn’t give much detail on what a fleet manager’s work would look like — this plan is all in the early stages. Tesla’s second master plan said it would start producing all-electric semi trucks in 2017, but for the time being it doesn’t look like drivers will be leaving their seats behind the wheel.
“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,” Musk said.
Tesla cars have already driven at least 222 million miles using the assisted-driving Autopilot system, but Musk says regulatory approval will probably take at least six billion miles for consumer cars.
Fortunately, there are other companies with trucks already on the road. Uber-affiliate Otto has been testing self-driving semis for months, and on October 25, one of its vehicles made the first autonomous delivery (it was a beer run).
Musk also talked about the upcoming Tesla-Solar City merger during his interview with Tesla investor Ronald Baron and CNBC anchor Carl Quintanilla. They also touched on Autopilot crashes, SpaceX explosions, and Donald Trump.
But they also managed to talk trucks.
Musk said getting all drivers out from behind the wheel might actually be safer and more productive.
“I think it’ll actually be a big safety improvement because you get a lot of accidents when drivers are tired behind the wheel,” he said.
While that may already be legal in Texas, it’s going to take a lot more testing before the trucks hit every highway.