The Tesla Model 3 may have hit the road, but it’s still hiding a few tricks up its sleeve. Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist who sits on Tesla’s board of directors, revealed on Tuesday that Elon Musk’s $35,000 electric car has a motorized charging port. It sounds like a small detail, but it’s critical to the company’s future vision where the Model 3 can drive itself without any human intervention.
“Is this lid motorized?” Flickr user hey_ghis asked Jurvetson. “I hope so! In order to achieve full autonomy with these promising snake chargers!”
“Yes,” Jurvetson said. “We welcome our robo-probes.”
Tesla has been testing these “robo-probes” for a long time, demonstrating a working prototype in August 2015. Instead of the current system, where a user plugs a cord into the vehicle, a robot arm reaches forward and plugs into the charging receptacle itself. It’s cool, very futuristic, and slightly unsettling:
It seems like a fun novelty, but it’s important to Tesla’s future plans for full autonomy. The Model 3, like every other Tesla car shipping since October, comes with the necessary cameras and sensors to support fully autonomous driving at a later date through a software update.
The implications of this system are vast. Tesla could set up a theoretical delivery network where new cars drive themselves from the factory to their new owners. With robotic probes, the cars could stop along the way to recharge and reach their destination.
Currently, Tesla is only shipping an “Enhanced Autopilot” feature that offers autonomous driving along highways, parallel parking and other limited situations. Musk has previously promised fully autonomous cross-country road trips by the end of this year, but the clock is ticking to reach his self-imposed deadline. When it arrives, though, it seems that the Model 3 will be ready for Tesla’s new autonomous car network.
Jurvetson, a big Tesla fan, is known for his collection of the company’s cars. As well as the owner of the fifth Model 3 in the world, he’s also the owner of the very first Model S vehicle. He told the Chicago Tribune that he got the Model S by signing a check in a 2009 board meeting and throwing it across the table the moment the car’s price was declared and it went on sale.