Tesla: Driving Electric Car Innovation
“To accelerate the advance of sustainable transport”, so sounded the starting line of Elon Musk, the polymath gigabillionaire who invented PayPal and is co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, at the special launch event held on the 29th of September 2015 at Tesla’s Fremont factory. In front of lucky owners and members of the media, the launch concerned the Tesla Model X; the first all-electric SUV, the bigger brother of the popular Model S sedan car, on which the Model X is based. (Musk, 2015)
With the so-called ‘three-stage strategy’, Tesla strives to show that any type of car could go electric. It all started with the compelling sports car; the Tesla Roadster in 2002. The Model S was launched in ten years later, and sold 90,000 vehicles by the beginning of October this year. The Model S was a statement regarding the possibility of a fashionable electric car, hitting 100 kilometers per hour from a standstill in 2.8 seconds, putting it on par with, yes, the Lamborghini Huracán and McLaren 650S. (Davies, 2015) Now, the seven-seater all-wheel drive with automatic falcon doors that open upwards instead of outwards when moving towards the front door (by triangulating the position of the driver), has a 470 kilometer radius per charge range and is able to hit 100 kilometers per hour from a standing start within 3.4 seconds with a top speed of 155 km/h. (Gibbs, 2015) This all, driven by a lithium-ion 90 kWh battery and some impressive technology.
The Model X is Tesla’s most advanced car yet, with a range of sensors including cameras, radar and sonar systems enabling partial self-driving and automatic braking safety features that can even work at high speeds. It also features a large 17inch touchscreen that has two critical computer systems; one is responsible for driving the screen and running the browser, while the other is a gateway system that operates the car. (Musk, 2015) Fully driven by this impressive computing system, the car is in continuous WiFi-connection with some unique features, including upgrades of the car’s operating system, making Tesla the first car that regains value after an update. In case of malfunctioning, the driver can connect at any time to the local Tesla service, has the ability to view all car information and quickly and remotely deliver software updates to its vehicles. When they see a prompt asking if they want to install the upgrade, car owners only have to click “yes”. Although not really clicking, a vibration of the screen imitates exactly that same feeling. Just as the (inner and outer) sound system that imitates the sound of an engine. (MIT, 2015) (Forbes, 2013)
Tesla is extremely cautious of the vulnerabilities around their digitally connected cars, especially on the critical drive system. Just a few months back, Fiat Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million hackable vehicles after Miller and Valasek were able to find a possible way to hack the multimedia computer of a Jeep Cherokee, which runs on a Linux operating system. Exploiting some pretty guessable issues in the software, they finally took control over the head unit’s system. The two hackers even took over the steering wheel of the Jeep that, till then, was driven by the maker of a television item. (Wired, 2015) Concerning Tesla cars, two researchers were able to start the car with a software command, and drive it, after plugging in their laptop into a network cable behind a Model S’ driver’s-side dashboard. By planting a remote-access Trojan on the network during the physical access, later they were able to remotely cut its engine while someone else was driving. Tesla reacted by further isolation of the browser from the rest of the infotainment system by using several different layered methods. (Musk, 2015) (Wired, 2015)
The Wi-Fi systems offer great added value and is hacker proof, at least, until it is proven otherwise. For now, the only real issue is charging. When you buy a Tesla they install a supercharger in your garage, but it still takes up to four hours to fully charge (110 kilometer range per hour of charging). But what if the battery is flat, you have an important business meeting, or worse, your family member just had an accident and you suddenly have to drive to hospital? Tough, you can’t. But I’m sure Tesla is working on that…
Wired. (2015, July 7). Wired. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me in It: http://www.wired.com/2015/07/hackers-remotely-kill-jeep-highway/
Wired. (2015, June 8). Wired. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from Researchers Hacked a Model S, But Tesla’s Already Released a Patch: http://www.wired.com/2015/08/researchers-hacked-model-s-teslas-already/
Davies, A. (2015, August 28). Review: Tesla Model S P90D. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from Wired: http://www.wired.com/2015/08/tesla-model-s-p90d-review/
Forbes. (2013, October 17). Forbes Tech. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from Tesla Now Connects Every Car To Internet: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2013/10/17/tesla-att-connected-cars/
Gibbs, S. (2015, September 30). Tesla Model X: Elon Musk launches first all-electric SUV. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from TheGuardian: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/30/tesla-model-x-elon-musk-electric-suv
Love, M. (2015, July 5). Tesla S: car review. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from TheGuardian: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/05/tesla-s-car-review-martin-love
Musk, E. (2015, September 29). Lauch: Tesla Model X. Fremont, California, US.
MIT. (2015, August 7). How Tesla Is Driving Electric Car Innovation. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from MIT Technology Review: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/516961/how-tesla-is-driving-electric-car-innovation/