NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Max Loper, a director for Central Electric Power Association in Philadelphia, Mississippi, had never seen a Tesla back home, and he certainly hadn't sat in one. That changed at TechAdvantage during the NRECA Annual Meeting, where a Tesla Model X—an all-electric SUV that can throttle from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds—drew him right in.

"It looks good and it feels good," he said from the white leather driver's seat. "I imagine it would be more geared for a city, although this 300-mile range is pretty good."

The Tesla was one of many cutting-edge technologies on display at The Lab, a hands-on exhibit space featuring innovations from Tesla and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). It included augmented and virtual reality, drone and mobile robotics technology, and new ways of thinking about electrification, including "advanced energy communities" and indoor agriculture.

At The Lab, participants could get upclose and personal with a BAMMP (Big Autonomous Mobile Measurement Platform), a four-wheeled robot equipped to measure electromagnetic interference at solar PV installations. They could try out a head-mounted tablet for a taste of lineworker applications for augmented reality.

And for Lab-goers to fully appreciate the scope of indoor agriculture, EPRI provided a virtual tour of a warehouse-turned-vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, owned by AeroFarms.

Donning a VR headset, participants were able to get a feel for the farm, surrounded by massive stacks of aeroponic beds reaching to the ceiling. Advanced LED lights simulate the sun's rays over each bed, creating a reliable electric load that can operate off-peak.

"That is incredible—I don't even know how to describe that," said Alan Lesley, general manager of Comanche Electric Cooperative Association in Comanche, Texas, after taking the VR tour.

"Something like this is really interesting," he continued. "It would be an ideal load—I can really see an application for this kind of agriculture, without a doubt."