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U.S. Air Force is buying a Tesla Model X to study its ‘fully self-driving’ capability

As the only option when it comes to all-electric SUVs, Tesla’s Model x is slowly growing in popularity.

Now apparently, even the U.S. Air Force wants one, but they are especially interested in its autonomous driving capability rather than the fact that it is electric.

A tipster sent Electrek a solicitation for the acquisition of a commercial vehicle by the U.S. Air Force (embedded below).

Interestingly, they are requesting specifically for the vehicle to be a ‘Tesla Model X’, but not just any Model X.

They are also requesting that the vehicle features several options including Tesla’s ‘Fully Self-Driving Capability’, the towing package, and preferrably with Dark Blue, Silver, or Black paint job – though the solicitation for the acquisition says that any color is “acceptable.”

We reached out to the U.S. Air Force’s press desk for a comment on the purchase.

Apparently, they plan to use the vehicle at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Department of Behavioral Science and Leadership, Trust, Automation and Human Machine Teaming Center will study the “interaction of human behaviors in relation to the operation of fully autonomous vehicles with advanced object detection and artificial intelligence systems.”

They explain why they made the requirements so specific that only the Model X fits the description for their study:

“The Air Force has determined that the Tesla brand meets its research project requirements as it is the only fully-electric vehicle commercially produced that offers 100% autonomous driving. There are no vehicles produced globally that are powered by internal combustion, diesel, hybrid, or battery-hybrid power trains that can meet the requirement, thus the decision from the Air Force to specify a 100% battery-electric vehicle.”

The fact that Tesla’ vehicles are powered by battery packs is actually an advantage for the Air Force since they say that they plan to power their sensors and data collecting devices for their study using an inverter drawing from the 12-volt battery, which is connected to the main power.

Tesla’s Model S was also considered for the study, but the Air Force says that they need towing capacity, which is why they are requesting a Model X.

As part of the study, the Air Force wants to determine how they should approach the system:

“A key factor in this project is to determine whether or not all enhanced autopilot systems should still be considered a driver’s assistance feature, with the driver responsible for remaining in control of the car at all times.”

Of course, Tesla’s Autopilot is without a doubt a driver assistance system and drivers are always responsible, but it sounds like the Air Force is more interested in the capacity for fully autonomous driving that Tesla claims its vehicles will be able to enable with future software updates.

The Air Force made mention of Tesla’s second generation Autopilot hardware and how it could enable 100% self-driving capacity. It’s not clear if they do understand that Tesla’s current vehicles don’t have a version of the software that supports fully self-driving, but I suppose they will find out quickly since they plan to close the purchase within a week and take delivery by the end of the following week.

Interestingly, it’s actually not the U.S. Air Force’s first Tesla. We recently reported on them using a Tesla Model S as chase car to launch spy planes on a Royal Air Force base.

Here’s the solicitation for the acquisition of a commercial vehicle by the U.S. Air Force

[scribd id=359863981 key=key-WpPuV1Tz6ntKfV98yPw8 mode=scroll]

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