Tesla’s Electric Semi Shows Promise—But Will it Deliver?

By Cody Cottier | November 17, 2017 4:12 pm
(Credit: Tesla)

(Credit: Tesla)

Elon Musk finally revealed the Tesla Semi, an electric big-rig he professes will outstrip the diesel fleets that have dominated American freight for decades.

The Tesla CEO flaunted his latest creation and its “BAMF performance”—it’s a technical term, he says—at an unveiling ceremony Thursday night in Hawthorne, CA. He outlined the semi’s specs, which include parlor tricks like going from 0-60 mph in 5 seconds and potentially industry-upending figures for driving range and cost of operation.

“It’s incomparably better than any other truck on the road,” he said.

Beat That Diesel

With the semi, Musk aims to bring sustainable energy to an industry that accounts for about 20 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. It’s Tesla’s latest push to permeate the major areas of transportation.

Though he didn’t mention a price, Musk said the semi will go to production in 2019. The year after that, he announced in a last-minute plot twist, Tesla will begin building a new $200,000 Roadster, which he called “the fastest production car ever made, period.”

Musk emphasized the numerous firsts for the car—first to break 0-60 mph in under 2 seconds; first to clinch a quarter-mile in under 9 seconds. The four-seater convertible will top out at over 250 mph with a 620-mile range.

As for the semi, perhaps the most eye-catching feature for trucking companies is its range: It can travel 500 miles at highway speed while carrying 80,000 pounds, and a 30-minute charge time.


Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the new electric semi has “BAMF Performance”—we’ll believe it when we see it. (Credit: Tesla)

“The range he claims is astounding,” said Hani Mahmassani, who studies transportation at Northwestern University, “and exceeds most expectations by a long shot.”

Because 80 percent of trucking routes are under 250 miles, Musk said, the semi could cater to regional needs, delivering loads and returning to a hub station without needing to recharge.

Musk claimed the Tesla Semi would be 20 percent cheaper per mile than diesel trucks, an important point for an industry with slim profit margins. But, he said, “it gets way better.” When driving in a convoy, communicating with other Tesla Semis to move in tandem, the trucks undercut diesel by nearly half the cost per mile. And Musk didn’t stop there.

“This beats rail,” he said. “That is, I think, really profound.”

The electric semi is powered by a massive battery stored in the floor pan, which runs four independent motors on the rear wheels. But it can operate on just two, with no transmission and no gears. Musk even guaranteed the drivetrain for a million miles.

He also promised improvements in safety, including emergency braking, automatic lane-keeping and autopilot in each semi. He said the motors can adjust the torque to each wheel to prevent jackknifing, “a trucker’s worst nightmare.”

An aerodynamic build decreases the semi’s drag below that of high-end sports cars. The spacious cab is as futuristic as the exterior, and the truck can connect to Tesla’s app, which offers diagnostic management and location tracking.


An interior view of the Tesla Semi—so sleek. (Credit: Tesla)

Will it Really Change the Trucking Industry?

Notably, Musk did not mention the electric semi’s weight. Nikola Motor Company, one of Tesla’s competitors in electric vehicles, tweeted that the semi’s battery would have to weigh between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds, which could affect payload.

“That’s the big question,” said Glen Kedzie, vice president of the American Trucking Association’s Energy and Environmental Council. “To increase range, you have to have more batteries, and to have more batteries you run up against weight limitations.”

Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said he expects the Telsa Semi could carry between 16 and 22 tons, competitive with diesel fleets.

For now, the trucks may be limited to competing in shorter hauls. Michael Hewitt, associate professor of information systems and supply chain management at Loyola University in, said he doubts the country’s interior—over which trucks drive billions of miles each year—could support the same robust charging infrastructure as California and the East Coast.

“I don’t believe we have the capacity now to charge vehicles for that much driving,” he said, “and it’s not clear how much government interest there is in building out that infrastructure.”

The unveiling coincides with Tesla’s struggles to build the Model 3, the company’s first venture into mass-production. Musk has so far failed to meet demand for the sedan, and a strict production schedule will be important in swaying the trucking industry toward his sem­i.

If Tesla can offer an attractive range and cost, businesses are likely to welcome the greener alternative to diesel. J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., one of America’s largest trucking companies, announced this morning it reserved “multiple” Tesla Semis.

“But the proof is in the pudding,” Mahmassani said. “We’ll have to wait and see if these claims are verified, and at what price this performance can be delivered.”

Watch the full unveiling of the Tesla Semi below.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Antarctic Fossils Reveal the Continent’s Lush Past

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 17, 2017 3:20 pm
(Credit: Gustav Gullstrand/Unsplash)

(Credit: Gustav Gullstrand/Unsplash)

Antarctica, a land of near-lunar desolation and conditions so bleak few plants or animals dare stay, was once covered with a blanket of lush greenery.

The conception of the ice-coated continent as a forested Eden emerged in the early 1900s when Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer, found plant fossils during an expedition to the South Pole. Now, researchers working in the Trans-Antarctic mountains, where they may be the first to tread for hundreds of millions of years, are digging deeper into the Antarctic’s deep past. Their work is revealing that not only was Antarctica home to greenery, it was veritably cloaked in it. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Robot Nails Backflip Better Than Most Gymnasts

By Lauren Sigfusson | November 17, 2017 1:51 pm

(Credit: Boston Dynamics)

The Atlas bipedal robot made by Boston Dynamics just showed off its new move: a perfectly executed backflip. And the humanoid robot stuck its landing better than most professional gymnasts—no hesitation, no wobble, nothing.

Boston Dynamics, which was acquired by Alphabet (Google’s parent company) in 2013 and then sold this year, released the new video on Thursday. Check out the impressive backflip below. Read More

MORE ABOUT: robots

Darwin Was Right About Bird Vomit

By Erica Tennenhouse | November 17, 2017 12:00 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Charles Darwin was a busy man.

When he wasn’t advancing his groundbreaking theory of evolution by natural selection, he could be found carefully analyzing the contents of bird vomit and droppings. No, this wasn’t an obscure hobby. He was getting his hands dirty to stack up more evidence to support one of his many hypotheses.

He suspected that some birds had an unusual way of transporting plants to new locations. “Freshwater fish, I find, eat seeds of many land and water plants; fish are frequently devoured by birds, and thus the seeds might be transported from place to place,” he wrote in Origin of Species. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

A First Attempt to Edit Genes Inside the Body

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 15, 2017 4:50 pm
(Credit: Creations/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Creations/Shutterstock)

For the first time, doctors have attempted to edit a man’s genes inside his body.

The patient is 44-year-old Brian Madeux, who suffers from a rare genetic disease that has left him progressively more debilitated over the course of his life. His liver can’t produce an enzyme necessary for breaking down a type of carbohydrate, something researchers hope to repair with a gene-editing technique called zinc-finger nucleases (ZFN). Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genes & health

Even Pills Are Going Digital

By Lauren Sigfusson | November 15, 2017 4:38 pm
(Credit: Proteus Digital Health)

(Credit: Proteus Digital Health)

Not following medicine as prescribed can be costly — like $100 billion to $289 billion, as reported by The Atlantic in 2012. Not only that, but it can also harm patients and set back their treatment.

But a new digital pill could change that.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Watch CRISPR Do Its Thing

By Carl Engelking | November 15, 2017 4:14 pm

(Credit: Shibata et al/Nature Communications)

Forget about the generic stock art that shows scissors cutting chunks of DNA, because researchers have recorded actual video of CRISPR in action.

CRISPR is a powerful gene-editing tool that allows researchers to cut and paste snippets of DNA to make targeted changes to a living organism’s genome. It’s a method that’s fast and easy, and it has ushered in a new era of customized life. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genetics

Organic Farming Could Feed the World, But…

By Lauren Sigfusson | November 15, 2017 11:38 am

(Credit: Shutterstock)

The United Nations estimates the global population will reach more than 9 billion by 2050, and, by some estimates, agricultural output will have to increase by 50 percent to feed all of those mouths. So is it possible to do it organically?

Modern farming methods focus on maximizing crop yields with the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which put off a surplus of nitrogen that turns into greenhouse gases or finds it’s way into waterways. Advances in industrial farming methods are often credited with helping the food supply keep pace with a growing population, but it’s also given rise to concerns about the negative environmental and health effects caused by chemically enhanced crops. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

Is Life Locked in Ice on Mars?

By Alison Klesman | November 15, 2017 11:26 am


Missions from above and on the surface have been searching for life on Mars for years. But there’s an important question worth asking, amidst this vital search: If life once thrived there, how long could even extreme microorganisms survive in Mars’ current harsh conditions? And where might they best survive?

A group of researchers from Lomonosov Moscow State University has just released their answer to those questions.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

With Just $1,000, Anyone Can Track Your Every Move

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 13, 2017 3:32 pm
(Credit: Wachiwit/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Wachiwit/Shutterstock)

By now, most of us are probably used to the idea that large corporations track our preferences and activities every time we go online. It’s the price we pay for the custom, convenient experiences we seek on the internet. But tracking your activity online isn’t exclusive to high-flying FAANG companies. For a modest sum, anyone can use the similar tracking tools to essentially spy on another person’s activities.

To illustrate the ease of web-based voyeurism, researchers from the University of Washington purchased ads from a common network and used them to track a person’s location and behavior, all for the price of about $1,000. So far, there are no reported instances of this method being applied to nefarious ends in the real world, but it reveals worrying vulnerabilities in the ways that technology companies gather, disseminate and monetize personal information. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts


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