Tesla Motors’ chief technology officer and co-founder, JB Straubel, was the keynote speaker at the recently held International Transport Forum held in Leipzig, Germany.
During his address at the ministerial session, Straubel touched on a number of subjects that circled around electric transportation and electric vehicles — mainly the innovations regarding batteries and autonomous driving.
“All ground vehicles are going to migrate towards electric,” Straubel predicted.
This may be true as more automakers are providing the option to choose between plug-in battery-powered cars and the traditional gasoline vehicles. But there is concern about the power of the batteries that operate electrified vehicles.
However, according to the Tesla exec this is not something to worry about.
“Much better batteries are possible,” he said. “We’re seeing performance improvements, not just cost reductions … [as evidenced by] more energy in the same volume of materials.
“On the technical side, that comes in terms of energy storage research; chemistry research, material science to make better batteries, and improve materials and reduce the cost. There’s a lot of room to improve there. It’s nowhere near the fundamental ceiling or physics limits yet. It’s an exciting and vibrant area.”
Regarding autonomous driving, Straubel said, “The trends here are irreversible. We’re not going to see them slow down or stop, and, full autonomy will be achievable from a hardware capability point of view much sooner than most people expect — in a matter of years, not decades.”
Straubel referred to the rate at which control software is improving as “ridiculously fast.”
The key to Tesla’s autonomous driving research is uninterrupted cellular Internet connection in its cars. Perhaps hard to fathom, the connection provides engineers with one million miles of self-driving data every 10 hours.
Even when a driver is not using Tesla’s Autopilot or Summon features, an “inert” mode allows engineers to access data streaming from the vehicles to see how the car “would have reacted” if it were in autopilot mode.
When Sterling Anderson, who leads development of Tesla’s self-driving Autopilot technology, was asked recently by the editors of Technology Review, if the Model 3 would be the first autonomous vehicle, he suggested Tesla could create significantly more autonomous cars before the Model 3’s debut in late 2017.
And What About a Tesla Pickup Truck?
When asked about the possibility of a Tesla truck, Straubel noted that it wouldn’t be very difficult.
“I can’t say too much about the new products and the things we are developing, but from a pure technology point of view, everything that we’ve done on vehicles translates directly into trucks.
“There’s no reason that today you can’t make a very compelling electric truck. They can charge at same sort of times as a Model S — as one of our passenger vehicles — and have the same economy of operation.”
The CTO’s remarks on the subject lead one to think that the idea of a Tesla truck has been more than just casual conversations.
Hints from Tesla about a truck aren’t new. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it was likely the company could make an electric truck during a venture forum in Hong Kong in January.
“It is quite likely we will do a truck in the future,” Musk said. “I think it’s sort of a logical thing for us to do in the future.”
However, before the Silicon Valley company can even think about truck production, it has to back up Musk’s statement that it expects to produce 100,000 Model 3 cars in 2017.
That would be a miraculous feat considering Tesla is still weeks away from final engineering sign off for the new car.